Changing approaches

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Kurt Sanford is CEO of ProQuest. We ask him about e-book business models and discoverability

What trends do you see?
One of the biggest shifts is the role of monographs. In the 80s and 90s there was a shift from print to digital with journals and today many university libraries just have digital journals. We are seeing the same thing now with monographs.

It is early days – around 15 to 20 per cent globally of book spend today is on digital – although some markets are more advanced. For example, in Australia the percentage is more like 70 to 80 per cent.

This is more than just making electronic versions of print books. There are changes to business models, workflows for libraries and acquisition approaches. You can rent, acquire or subscribe to an e-book. You can also do inter- library loans and non-linear lending. It is very different from the traditional print approach.

With print books, sometimes as much as half of a collection doesn’t circulate in the first three years after acquisition. Patron-driven acquisition (PDA) or demand-driven acquisition (DDA) of e-books allows for better use of money, with loans or purchases triggered when they are required.

Do libraries want the same things with e-books?
It’s all happening in a messy, confusing way. You can go to a library in one place and they say they only want subscriptions. Other libraries only want purchases. Libraries move at different paces.

Lots of innovation will still happen. I don’t think there’s a challenge with the different models. Libraries are charged with ensuring they get the best value from their investment. I see universities saying: ‘For this school we want to own that content but for another school we just want access when we need it through PDA/DDA and short-term loans.’

It is a completely different way of consuming information. You have all these options. At the same time publishers are trying to figure out their business models. It is not clear how it will pan out.

We will see consolidation in the number of e-book platforms and we’ve acquired ebrary and EBL. Our strategy is no secret: we want to provide the best front-end tools for libraries.

What about open access?
Open access is a net positive, not just for ProQuest but also for institutions and researchers. The challenge with open access is the discoverability of content – and it’s up to companies like us to help people find it. We provide open-access information to our customers free of charge alongside the other information. Researchers can decide which content they want.

The value that we bring is not just in monetising for-fee information. Web search engines are very good at finding the most popular information but having editors that curate resources enables us to help people find the most relevant information.

The big publishing houses that publish for-fee content have been around for a long time. If we move to more open access, it calls on companies to innovate. Markets are pretty efficient; companies adapt as markets change.

Open access is a challenge for companies that rely on for-fee information – libraries aren’t going to spend money on information they can get for free – but it is an opportunity, too.

Almost all the patent information in the world is available for free but billions of dollars are spent on patent research tools because having things just on patent office websites is not enough.

What are your thoughts on library platforms?
Many integrated library systems (ILSs) in the market were optimised for the print world – and a few years ago the vast majority of library spend was on print.

But the world has shifted. With our new Intota tools we’ve not focused initially on how to replace the print system. Everybody has got that already. Old ILSs were not optimised for electronic information and electronic at the moment is the pain point. Libraries need better tools to manage their electronic collections.

Our strategy is to integrate the collection management with e-book collection information, for example. What we are really focused on is managing resources, such as whether libraries are making good purchasing decisions.

The other big challenge for libraries is that old ILSs are mainly premise-based. They are hosted locally and require local skills. Almost all the tools coming out now are cloud-based. There are thousands and thousands of libraries out there and probably 95 per cent of them still have a traditional ILS.

What other trends do you see?
The fastest growing content source on the web is video, which is increasingly being included in scholarly resources too. I think this will be the next big thing. How do you search video? If it hasn’t been digitised and indexed then you can’t. We are creating files for libraries to do digitisation of video and index it.

Another big trend that is shifting how information is consumed is mobile. It is not so much phones but tablets. This is changing how people consume information and shifting the way that products are designed.

The tablet has really shifted to being the biggest area away from the PC where people are doing research. It requires companies to change their engineering and design. B2B (business to business) has to emulate B2C (business to consumer) much more. It comes with a lot of challenges but it is exciting. It makes you innovate and be nimble.

Interview by Siân Harris