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ProQuest Acquires Ebook Pioneer ebrary
Posted On January 13, 2011
With the goal to “accelerate the process of serious research,” ProQuest has acquired ebrary, a respected, pioneering ebook provider to libraries and corporations. The acquisition will bring a fully functioning ebook platform to ProQuest to add to its extensive content platform. The quarter-million ebooks from some 500 publishers will eventually be fully searchable with ProQuest’s journals, reference works, newspapers, dissertations, and multimedia. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“This is a game-changer for global research,” says Marty Kahn, ProQuest CEO. “While a natural next step has been to enhance ebook discovery for ProQuest platform users, there’s also far greater potential here. We’re primed for imaginative technology mash-ups that will energize users and accelerate the knowledge industry. The creative minds and deft technologists of ebrary are a welcome and fitting addition to our future-oriented business.”

Kahn says that ProQuest had to decide whether to build or buy an ebook platform. Ebooks increasingly represent what research libraries want. (ProQuest has been representing Safari Books Online as the exclusive distributor in the academic market, and non-exclusive in the corporate market.) ProQuest and ebrary have had very cordial relations and have talked over the years about an acquisition. Kahn says the company became convinced that ebrary was the best choice, even though it was not for sale. The companies talked, ProQuest made an offer, and ebrary brought it to its board. The companies signed and closed the same day so they could make the announcement for ALA Midwinter. Christopher Warnock, ebrary CEO, says the acquisition “made a lot of sense—as good a fit as we’ll ever have.”

With ProQuest’s resources behind it, ebrary, which has 80+ people and 20 sales reps, will be able to expand and improve its level of customer support, training, and marketing services. ProQuest has some 300 sales reps. “ebrary is extremely excited to become a part of ProQuest,” says Warnock. “There is tremendous synergy between our products and services as well as our teams. Together, we know that we can provide best-of-kind services to libraries worldwide and the users they serve.”

“This is the next chapter for ebrary,” said Kevin Sayar, ebrary President. “We are happy to be part of an organization with a broad range of strengths and we’re looking forward to collaborating in ways that will inspire entirely new information solutions and captivate new users.” ebrary founders Warnock and Sayar will remain to lead the business in its Palo Alto headquarters and most employees are expected to stay on as well.

ebrary was founded in 1999 and has consistently innovated over the years in the ebook market. But, Warnock admitted, “as a small company we always had to stretch. It was harder than we planned [when we started the company] but lately it’s been getting a lot more fun.” In 2010 the company increased its 2010 revenue by more than 30 percent over the previous year—a fact that was certainly not lost on the ProQuest folks. “It’s been an amazing year,” says Warnock. “The company has been firing on all cylinders.”

ProQuest and ebrary say they are committed to developing new research capabilities including support for additional languages such as Chinese and Arabic, improvements to DASH!, QuickView, InfoTools, bookshelves and other key components of the ebrary interface. In addition to supporting subscription, perpetual access, and patron driven acquisition models, ProQuest and ebrary plan to provide new models for acquiring content including short term loans.

Marydee Ojala, editor of ONLINE, says, “The potential synergies between existing ProQuest content and the ebooks that ebrary brings are exciting. Plus, the technical expertise of the ebrary team should be extremely beneficial for ProQuest’s enhancement and development of new platforms."

Analyst John Blossom of Shore Communications likes the acquisition. “Great deal. ProQuest needed ebook inventory and platform technology, ebrary needed a more strategically positioned sales force and deeper search and content components. The ebook format aligns well with many of ProQuest’s digital archives formats and with its premium business model. ProQuest has come a long way in the past couple of years.”

ProQuest has indeed been busy the last few years. The company purchased Dialog from Thomson Reuters in June 2008 and had its hands full integrating multiple legacy platforms. It took the company until August 2010 to launch a first release of the new “ProQuest Dialog,” which offers a subset of Dialog and DataStar content intended for use by end users in the pharmaceutical/biomedical customer community. It planned a phased release for other content and markets. At that same time, ProQuest also started to preview its new ProQuest platform with content from ProQuest and CSA plus some from Chadwyck Healy. Not until November 2010 did the first library go live on the new platform. Then, in December 2010, ProQuest acquired the Congressional Information Service and University Publications of America product lines from LexisNexis.

Kahn stressed that the new ProQuest platform is just beginning to be exposed and won’t be finished for years—an ambitious undertaking. He also pointed to the just announced partnership with libraries for a multi-year European book digitization project—a multimillion dollar investment. These initiatives, plus the ebrary purchase, are all in fulfillment of the company’s mission “to connect people and information.”

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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