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ProQuest Takes Over Library Marketing for Turmoil and Tumult
Posted On March 18, 2013 provides a massive searchable database of local newspapers (more than 5,000 titles) with content dating from 1607. It runs more than 130 million pages with new ones added at the rate of one a second. A consumer version of the complete file has the usual attractive prices of a Net product—from free but inconvenient to full-featured and unlimited usage versions with prices starting at $19.95 a month. Library sales have grown over the years; they now have some 250 libraries contracting for the database. Now the company has signed an exclusive worldwide distribution agreement with ProQuest. ProQuest will not provide any of its own newspaper coverage, but it does plan to re-package the content and re-price it. In the course of gathering information on the new arrangement, ProQuest changed product plans dramatically in just a few days. However, one thing was clear: Prices for libraries will really change.

For example, the lowest price available, one covering small public libraries, was $1,100 for the state of Illinois alone. A check with a local public library having an existing contract with revealed that its annual subscription payment for the entire database was $900. The librarian who told me the price added a comment, “And we won’t pay a cent more.” grew out of Heritage Microfilms in the late 1990s and changed its company name. It continues to provide libraries with microfilm products and continues to expand its microfilming efforts. The online file is based on digitization of the microfilmed pages and then OCR-ing the text to produce a full-text index. The database has serious quality problems. A university news archivist described the file as having “tons of errors.” However, he was still a fan.

Look at the layers of problems involved. Cheap paper stock, sometimes more than 100 years old, from local newspaper presses, often using worn-out type fonts, and all this then microfilmed before being digitized makes the task of successful optical character recognition daunting. However, since the file is built on images, it offers browse capabilities that let smart humans work with the content. For example, if the indexing won’t give you every entry for a subject, it might get you to the right dates and then you can page through the newspaper. In any case, the database is unique in its breadth and depth for any kind of historical research and especially for genealogical research. Or is it?

When we interviewed Chris Cowan, vice president of product management at ProQuest Information Solutions, he made it clear that ProQuest planned to carve’s content into subset packages. The details of the packaging plans changed dramatically in just 3 days, but the resolve not to license the data as a whole remained firm.

The unavailability of the entire file to the library market as a searchable whole could affect the usability of the content and thus purchase decisions. In its own consumer version, strongly emphasizes the value of the file for genealogical research. This is an area that ProQuest itself has provided products, usually through other affiliated deals similar to this one with, e.g., Ancestry Library Edition and Heritage Quest. A recent study of a network of public libraries showed that genealogical databases were the only area showing usage growth. Confining the content in to specific geographic areas, as in ProQuest’s current plans, would seriously undermine the value of the content for genealogical research.

What happened in the U.S. in the 19th century? Lots of things of course, but the most permanent change involved population movement. In 1800, the U.S. was a small Eastern seaboard country; in 1899, it was a continental nation reaching as far west as Hawaii and Alaska. And we weren’t exactly stay-at-homes in the 20th century. Twentieth-century demographic trends, in particular, urbanization and frostbelt-to-sunbelt, require data unbound by any state-only data limits. The massive population redistributions require a national level database for successful genealogical research.

Speaking of regional subsets, this illustrates the volatility of ProQuest’s plans. The first day I spoke with ProQuest officials, they planned to offer 11 subsets for individual titles (out of more than 5,000), 19 states (out of 50 plus D.C.), and two countries (Canada and the U.K.). No plans for regional groupings were currently planned.

The next day, four regionals were authorized, and the following day it emerged that the regionals would encompass all the “leftover” states not among the 19 state subsets. So that gives us the entire content, but what library could afford to buy all the subsets? And what library patron or even librarian would endure having to sequence search subsets instead of one search for the full file? Whatever ProQuest plans, it has to rely on existing platform features and technology, which, by the way, do offer user-initiated subset searching as well as the full file.

So what are the current offerings? By the way, there is one important new feature in the ProQuest library editions of—perpetual archive licenses. As described by Cowan, “Perpetual Archive License. Library makes a one-time purchase of the product and ‘owns’ the data. Funding usually comes from the collection development budget. Typically, there is a smaller annual access fee for access. If desired by the library, the data could be delivered to the library for local hosting. The PAL will be more expensive than an annual subscription. A subscription is like leasing the product.”

What prices? Here is an example for the state of Illinois:

Type of Library

Pop Served/ FTE

Subscription $


PAL Continuing Service Fee $






































Cowan did indicate some flexibility in pricing. “ProQuest sales representatives would work with librarians to determine the library’s customized price. There will be generous discounts for subscribing to or purchasing multiple products.”

Here are the products offered now. Note that the regionals exclude any coverage of the single state subsets. So if you buy the “West States,” they come without California and Utah; “Northeast States” don’t include New York or Massachusetts; “Central States” lack Illinois and Kansas among others. You get the idea, but will your patrons understand using a regional file?

NewspaperARCHIVE Library Edition

Years of Coverage Chart

Title / Collection Years of Coverage/PAL Ownership Years

Abilene Reporter News          1784–1977/ 1784–1977

Daily Herald (Chicago)           1901–2007/ 1901–2003

Cedar Rapids Gazette             1948–2012/ 1948–2003

Galveston Daily News            1865–2012/ 1865–2003

Kingston Gleaner                    1834–2013/ 1834–2003

Oakland Tribune                     1874–1977/ 1874–1977

San Antonio Light                  1883–1977/ 1883–1977

Santa Ana Orange County Register 1869–2012/ 1869–2003

Syracuse Post Standard          1875–2012/ 1875–2003

Winnipeg Free Press               1874–2013/ 1874–2003

Wisconsin State Journal          1852–2012/ 1852–2003

State Collections

Arizona           1860–2012/ 1860-2003

California        1846–2013/ 1846-2003

Illinois             1830–2012/ 1830–2003

Indiana            1753–2012/ 1753–2003

Iowa                1800–2013/ 1800-2003

Kansas             1868–2012/ 1868-2003

Maryland         1799–2012/ 1799-2003

Massachusetts 1784–2011/ 1784-2003

Michigan         1753–2012/ 1753-2003

New Mexico   1847–2012/ 1847-2003

New York       1753–2012/ 1753–2003

North Carolina 1799–2012/ 1799-2003

Ohio                1753–2012/ 1753–2003

Pennsylvania   1769–2013/ 1769-2003

Texas               1784–2011/ 1784-2003

Utah                1871–1977/ 1871-1977

Virginia           1822–2012/ 1822-2003

West Virginia 1896–2012/ 1896-2003

Wisconsin        1813–2012/ 1813-2003

National Collections

Canada            1872–2011/ 1872-2003

UK                  1607–2013/ 1607-2003

Regional Collections with page counts

Central States  3,839,719

Minnesota       625,322

Missouri          1,384,217

Nebraska         312,035

North Dakota  129,127

Oklahoma        1,161,835

South Dakota  227,183

Northeast States          2,140,652

Connecticut                 495,855

Delaware                     2,804

District of Columbia  162,581

Maine                          455,516

New Hampshire          464,458

New Jersey                  138,270

Rhode Island              308,137

Vermont                      113,031

Southeast States          5,525,848

Alabama                      258,581

Arkansas                     930,820

Florida                         985,706

Kentucky                    153,876

Louisiana                     748,058

Mississippi                   1,229,345

South Carolina            739,129

Tennessee                    480,333

West States                 5,049,106

Alaska                         276,784

Colorado                     1,023,859

Hawaii                         8,316

Idaho                           1,002,601

Montana                      1,407,964

Nevada                        702,657

Oregon                        44,166

Washington                 537,105

Wyoming                    45,654

There will be some overlap between ProQuest’s own newspaper archives, but’s version will prevail. No improved version of the Washington Post, either in images or indexing, will emerge from the ProQuest Historical Newspapers, which reaches back to issue one of the leading national newspapers as well as black and Jewish newspapers in its 36-paper coverage. ProQuest Newsstand covers close to 1,400 titles, but with no content earlier than 1977. Whether ProQuest will, in time, add content now unique to is unknown.

Speaking of and its content, you may be asking about the consumer version. This version will not be available to libraries under the new arrangement. People calling the company about library access are immediately forwarded to ProQuest staff. The prices on the consumer version are:

Introductory/quarterly 100 views also print and save $19.95

Unlimited monthly $29.95

Unlimited semiannual $99.95

Free service/membership, full file, no print, no save, one view a day

As to existing contracts between and libraries, Cowan responded, “Library institutional subscriptions will go through ProQuest, with public libraries having the option to keep their subscriptions as is for a year. After that, public libraries will select among the different NewspaperARCHIVE library edition products.” No comment was made on this issue about academic libraries.

Squeak, Wheel, Squeak

This is a rough one. I can only urge librarians—both those interested in this useful database and even those interested only in the vendor relations aspects—to make their concerns known to the two vendors involved, to other vendors, and to collegial communications. Comments sent to this site will be greatly appreciated.

On a personal note, I’ve gotten something good out of this—an editorial for the May/June issue of Online Searcher. Right now, my working title is “What Were You Thinking?!!” The Searcher’s Voice editorials are all available full-text on This one should be a doozy. I may have an idea on how librarians might be able to tap into consumer data source pricing without actually violating terms and conditions. Stay tuned.

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Amy Mullin3/18/2013 2:55:36 PM

The Academic Subscription column looks strange. $12,320
for the low FTE tier, but only $4,345 for the mid tier?

Pricing aside, it's a shame that this valuable historical archive is getting carved up like this.
Thanks for catching this typo -- it should be $1,230. It's correct now. -- Ed.

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