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RE: The embargo debate: tenor and motivations

I think Mr. Carlson has accurately identified the key points of the
debate. Whatever the counts happen to be, two questions are raised.  One
is a question of editorial policy in the design of databases as it relates
to embargoes. The second question is about the strategic exclusives.

Editorial Considerations

The respective needs of ARL's, community colleges, public libraries, K12,
etc. are different. In building products for these audiences, database
publishers establish editorial policies and make investments in:

- Title counts (index only, embargo, non-embargo, peer reviewed, etc)
- Interface ease-of-use
- Currency of full text and indexing
- Completeness (how many articles from a publication are included)
- Index power (index fields, quality of vocabularies, number of  terms
- Quality of service, support and training.

The inclusion of embargoed titles in a database is an editorial decision
relative to the target market for the product. However, is bigger always
better? Should aggregators dump all the content they can get into one huge
database? Are large, general reference databases a substitute for more
specialized databases with robust, detailed, subject-specific indexing? We
know from our usage logs that the majority of usage in periodical
databases is in the most recent 12 months. Does a library value two titles
equally when one has an embargo and the other does not? It costs the same
to manufacture, index and deliver an embargoed title as a non-embargoed
title. The editorial decision that the aggregator faces is to decide if
the value of embargoed content as measured by library subscriptions covers
its costs. I agree with Mr. Carlson's conclusion that librarians will
decide which databases best meet their needs.

Consortia are another factor to consider. Consortia (especially multi-type
consortia) serve multiple constituents. Title counts and price are often
the most convenient decision criteria. This drives vendors to build the
largest counts possible at the lowest price with secondary consideration
for other product attributes. However, think about the journal publisher's
point-of-view. If title counts rise faster than database subscription
revenue as aggregators bulk up title counts, any one publisher's earned
royalty goes down in the long run.  As a journal publisher manages its
whole revenue from print subscriptions, reprints, microform, document
delivery and databases, it is reasonable that such a dynamic would
influence embargo policies. It also suggests why a publisher would be
attracted to the guarantees associated with exclusive agreements. More
content for more money works for publishers. More content for less does
not. For a good article on that topic read "A license to Deal" by Tom
Sanville from the February 15, 1999 issue of Library Journal.

I would challenge the argument made by Mr. Carlson that no aggregator
would ever want an embargo. But first let me state for the record before
we are again falsely accused, that we do not advocate the cancellation of
print in favor of access to content through aggregated databases. In fact,
libraries need to understand that licensed aggregated databases are a
service and not a collection in the traditional sense. Libraries must
decide what material they need to hold for the long term in print,
microform or electronic formats with perpetual licenses. I do believe that
embargoes on certain content are here to stay and that libraries will need
to fill the gap with either print subscriptions or e-journals. With that
said, it is conceivable that an aggregator that is also a subscription
agent may want to delay the migration to electronic access by advocating
embargoes to protect its print service. This would accelerate the
implementation of embargoes. Ultimately, all successful aggregators must
support publisher efforts to maximize its whole revenue stream. The
question is how long through the transition.

Strategic Exclusives

As discussed in a prior thread on this list, the pursuit of strategic
exclusives started about one year ago. It is clear that the goal is to
limit library choice to drive increased market share. ProQuest is
responsible to our subscribers to defend our products in light of this
strategy. We recently secured and announced preferred agreements with two
major scholarly publishers that were formerly exclusive with another
vendor. The result is that a large number of titles will return to
ProQuest and will be halted in a competitor's databases in 2002. If we
extend this case study, libraries can expect an increase in the number of
exclusive titles as vendors try to carve out an advantage. Further, these
exclusives will move from vendor to vendor every few years as vendors work
to overcome a competitor's advantage. Thus titles will constantly be
moving around making all databases more volatile. Finally we should expect
costs to rise because exclusives are expensive.

Mr. Carlson stated that he assumed that no vendor would secure an
exclusive unless it was cost effective relative to the value of the
publication. However, if the goal build a very high share of the whole
market, it may be better to think of the guarantees as investments that
will be covered over time by higher profits associated with a high share
and only remotely connected to the specific content being exclusively
licensed. Does the strategy support the underlying needs of libraries? Is
it sustainable? Will libraries reward the vendor that builds the largest
number of exclusive titles? Aggregators will watch the last question very

Finally, I cannot resist the temptation to offer one point in the
marketing debate regarding claim about active, non-embargoed,
peer-reviewed titles. ProQuest offers over 1,000 active, non-embargoed,
peer-reviewed titles from nearly 700 unique publishers. We can find only
670 such titles from 340 publishers in our competitor's offering.
Including planned titles that are not yet available for searching brings
the number only to 800. ProQuest has a wide lead in this measure contrary
to claims otherwise. Admittedly, the ProQuest titles are split among
several databases as dictated by the editorial policy of the individual
files while our competitor includes nearly all of these title in a single
database regardless of content subject.

Vince Price
Vice President - ProQuest Marketing
ProQuest Information and Learning
Ph: 800-521-0600
Fax: 734-761-4700

-----Original Message-----
From: Carlson, David [mailto:DCarlson@bridgew.edu]
Sent: Thursday, July 26,2001 9:09 AM
To: 'liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu'
Subject: The embargo debate: tenor and motivations

My two cents:
It's unfortunate, I think, that the current debate on embargoes seems to
be turning in to something of an Ebsco vs. ProQuest marketing debate. I'm
not sure I have a winning suggestion to address this. I think some of the
numbers and analysis recently presented are interesting and informative
but I hope the discussion is more generic and less "he said, she said" (or
rather: Ebsco said, ProQuest said....). I know vendor representatives have
biases -- and that's fine. I'm also sure they're writing the truth as they
know it, or at least are presenting their particular truths as they see
them and want them to be presented. OK.
The data IS informative but whatever the numbers, it is not that Ebsco is
the bad guy and ProQuest the good; or vice versa. Stating the obvious: it
is our job, as librarians, to evaluate the content of these databases, the
cost, the interface, the relevance to our needs AND the level and use of
embargoes (as well as other factors) to make the best possible selection
decisions for our institutions that we can make. We get paid for this.
Other than this, I would like to make one comment on the content of the
discussion. I find it logical that an aggregator, such as Ebsco or
ProQuest, would *not* prefer embargoes. This only makes business sense. If
I, as a vendor, could offer you a full text database where all the titles
have no embargo periods (and all the children are above average....) this
is a clear marketing and strategic advantage. I don't think any aggregator
would try to get titles with embargoes (unless there were cost factors
which would make an embargo-less title too expensive for inclusion
otherwise). I can readily understand, however, why *publishers* might
require embargoes of titles in aggregator databases. The motivations are
obvious. It would be nice to hear from publishers in this regard.
I do not, however, see the same logic and motivation with exclusivity
agreements. I can understand why aggregators would prefer and even recruit
for exclusive agreements with publishers -- as long as they felt it was
cost-effective relative to the value of the publication. I agree with
others who have expressed their concern about this development. Its
implications have concerns at several levels.
David Carlson Director of Libraries Bridgewater State College Bridgewater,
MA 02325 Work: 508-531-1256 Fax: 508-531-5255
 <mailto:dcarlson@bridgew.edu> dcarlson@bridgew.edu 
 <http://www.bridgew.edu/library> www.bridgew.edu/library