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Knowledgespeak Exclusive: An interview with Tim Collins, President, EBSCO Publishing - 07 Oct 2010

Q

Knowledgespeak: Okay all ; we wait to welcome Tim Collins of EBSCO, thank you so much for coming today. We really appreciate your time for this interview.

We will start off about the Frankfurt Book Fair. We would love to hear what your impressions are on it so far, any interesting events or trends you have seen that could have jumped out at you and what you think and like from what you have seen so far?

A

Tim Collins: Well thank you for the opportunity to be here. I have been here for about two and a half days and we have had a positive show. I always look forward to the show because you can meet with several people. As far as trends and impressions, I guess this could be the year that e-books actually takeoff; as you know we acquired NetLibrary recently. So, a lot of our conversations (at the fair) have been about that. We have been talking with publishers about new models and new approaches and have been very positively impressed by their receptivity to these new approaches. This is in contrast to the past, when publishers were not as receptive and were all nervous. In our other business, databases, we are well established and it will continue to remain very stable. The e-books business is well poised to take off.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Okay, let us move on to talk a little bit about the EBSCO Discovery Service. How does EBSCO Discovery Service deliver an improved search experience for library and research users? How does the service compare with other major providers of web-scale discovery services, such as Summon, WorldCat Local, ExLibris, and AquaBrowser Library?

A

Tim Collins: Well, we load meta data from key publishers and database providers locally. As a discovery service, the key advantages would be comprehensiveness and quick searching without the inherent delays of federated solutions. Having said that, we have actually integrated federated search into our approach for the EBSCO discovery service.

The reason for that is that is we recognize that although the panacea is to have all the metadata from every piece of content that ever existed in one place, not all publishers are going to freely participate in a discovery service. The reality is, in order to have a truly comprehensive solution you got to have a comprehensive meta data layer that is quickly searchable, and well supplemented with the ability to search a database that does not participate, so that is a unique approach. It is comprehensive and it is something that the customer can choose to either implement or not.

In terms of differentiators of our service when compared to others, the key fact is that the Discovery Service leverages the interface of EBSCOhost – a very established platform with over 100,000 customers around the world. People are using that interface and there is no additional training required. It has got additional features, but with the same look and feel. So someone who has used EBSCO in the past will use Discovery Service without any need for training. We have worked with publishers for a long time--60 plus years on the subscription service side, 20 plus years on the database side. So we have a strong relationship with these publishers. We have the metadata, we also license new content and are definitely adding fresh content to it everyday. Overall, what we have is a very comprehensive and robust platform, which is different from other offerings in that this is not a solution where you quickly get the result and then pop off to somebody else’s site. It’s actually a fully featured solution and so that once you have the article, you can take advantage of different functionality that users are accustomed to at EBSCOhost and you can manipulate that data in a fully-featured way. So it’s a different approach.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Thanks really interesting. What are the key functionality of the service and what improvements are being planned to stay competitive. I think you probably answered the first part of that but the second part is what we want you to comment on.

A

Tim Collins: Sure. Talking about enhancements, we have a number of things that we are working on. We are working on taking the records that we get from multiple providers and creating a comprehensive record, so that you could then have a consolidated record pulling in the data elements from different sources to complement each other. This allows the user to then search or link over from that consolidated record over to the record in a database that has all those features and data elements. We are doing that for both journal-based records for articles or entries and also for books, and are working hard on this. The amount of content that we are adding is remarkable. For instance, as part of our relationship with NewsBank, we handle 120 million records and are adding new records every day. That is just one provider. So, adding new content, loading the content that we have already, have the rights to load, securing additional relationships and adding new features are the key things that come to my mind.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Great, thanks for that. What is the future of abstracts and index databases, in your opinion, given the findability of the primary literature via Google and similar searches? How must the traditional information aggregator evolve its value add given the access directly to primary content via a Google (and other) search?

A

Tim Collins: Your question about the future of the abstract & index databases is actually a topic that has been debated for a long time. We obviously own several abstract index databases and we continue to acquire them, some of them very recently. So, we believe there’s definitely a future there. Compared to searches like Google or anybody else, we offer advantages on parameters like comprehensiveness and relevancy of information. Getting a results list numbering 40,000 entries or 4 million entries is not really useful. If you have the benefit of having intelligent trained humans - who are experts in that discipline - actually looking at that content, you can then leverage your relevancy ranking algorithm to improve relevancy. This is something that we actually see as the value-add that the abstract index databases bring. This is one of the key ways to differentiate ourselves from a service like Google, which is tuned to meet the needs of the average user. We are not meeting the needs of the average user. We are confident in the future of A&I databases and we have invested in it and we think it’s important to libraries. Libraries buy a lot of abstract index databases, so obviously they see the value of it. And we are committed to that !


Q

Knowledgespeak: Great thanks. Okay now our last question for today. What is EBSCO’s experience in mobile publishing, given the challenge of delivering content on the smaller screens of mobile devices? How does mobile publishing compare with desktops or publishing for tablets like the iPad?

A

Tim Collins: We are into different types of businesses and the applications differ accordingly. In the medical business, we have point of care products for doctors to actually use for treatment at the bedside. Here you would prefer very concise writing so that the doctor does not have to read in detail before he can make a decision. So, we are looking at very concise writing, easy to read screens, and less graphics so as to get immediately to the content. As a contrasting scenario, you take a public library venue, something like the iPad is very important, especially if you are having a popular type of book.

We have created mobile interfaces for a number of our products. We have actually brought in experts who are familiar with different devices and can create the apps for us. We are keen to provide content through as many of these devices as we can support realistically. Everyone likes to ask which device is going to win. Well, no body knows. The key is to try to support as many as you can.

In our e-book business, we are moving toward handling more than just PDFs. We are looking at e-Pubs that can actually be downloaded in different formats across devices. It is just not a straight forward project, and it takes a lot of work. We are positioning ourselves for a good long term business with e-books.


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