library vendor wars

We libraries as customers would prefer to be able to ‘de-couple’ content and presentation.  We want to be able to decide what content and services to purchase based on our users needs and our budgets; and separately to decide what software to use for UX and presentation — whether proprietary or open source — based on the features and quality of the software, and our budgets.

To make matters more complicated, we want to try and take our content and services — purchased from a variety of different vendors — and present them to our users as if it were one single ‘app’, one single environment, as if the library were one single business.  This makes matters more complicated, but it also makes this ‘de-coupling’ of UX layer from underlying content and services — even more important. Because if the content and services we purchase from various vendors are tied only to those vendors own custom interfaces and platforms, there’s no way to present it to users as a unified integrated whole. (How would you feel about Amazon or Netflix if they made you use one website for Science Fiction, and a completely different website that looked and behaved completely differently for History?).

Of course, our vendors have different interests.  A vendor of content and services could decide that the more places their content and services can be used, the more valuable those content and services are — so they’d want to allow their content and services, once purchased, to be used in as wide a variety of proprietary and open source UX’s as possible. Or a vendor could decide that approach dilutes their brand, instead they should use their content and services as ‘lock in’ to try and ‘vertically integrate’ and get existing customers to buy even more products from them. You want these journals to be available in your ‘discovery’? Then you better buy our discovery platform, because that’s the only place these journals are available, and besides we’ll cut you a ‘big deal’ discount when you buy our discovery product too.

I am honestly not really sure which approach is better for the vendors. But I know which approach is better for the libraries. Library and vendor interests may not be aligned here, at least in the short- and medium-terms. In the long range view, certainly our vendors need us to survive as customers, and we need some vendors to exist to sell us things we can’t feasibly provide in-house or through consortium alone.

The attempt to ‘lock in’ by various vendors will make it impossible for us to present services in the integrated UX that is necceasary for us to remain credible and valuable to our users. We’ll have vendor-purchased content and services available only in a number of separate vendor ‘silos’ or ‘walled gardens’.  It’s not actually a question of purchase costs, it’s an issue of pure technical feasibility.  We’ll either start limiting our purchases to one vertically integrated vendor (which every vendor would be happy with, as long as we pick them),  or we’ll continue to deliver content and services as a patchwork of different pieces fitting poorly together, confusing our users and further degrading the perception of the library as a competent organization.

Here’s an email sent out today from Ex Libris, I don’t know of any reason I would not be allowed to share it publicly, I hope there’s no reason I am not aware of.

Dear Primo Central Customers,

This is to inform you that Thomson Reuters has decided to withdraw its Web of Science content from Primo Central starting January 1, 2014. We understand this decision encompasses all the major library discovery solutions.

Thomson Reuters informed us that they are not planning a broad market communication of any sort; rather, they will communicate through their representatives on an individual customer basis. The message below is adapted from the information that Thomson Reuters is sharing with individual customers:

“Thomson Reuters has decided to focus on enabling customers and end users to use the Web of Science research discovery environment as the primary interface for authoritative search and evaluation of citation connected research. For this reason Thomson Reuters will no longer make Web of Science content available for indexing within EBSCO, Summon, or Primo Central. Thomson Reuters will, however, continue to support Web of Science accessibility via integrated federated search tools that are available in Primo or other systems.”

The impact of this decision on your end users will be limited because the vast majority of the Web of Science records are available in Primo Central via Elsevier Scopus and other resources of similar quality. The Scopus collection is now fully indexed in the Primo Central Index and is searchable by mutual customers of Scopus and Primo Central.

If you have any comments or additional questions, please feel free to contact [omitted]

Kind Regards,

Primo Central Team



6 thoughts on “library vendor wars

  1. Ex Libris followup:

    Dear Primo Central Customers,

    We are happy to report that Ex Libris has now reached an agreement with Thomson Reuters to continue providing the Web of Science content within Primo Central for the benefit of mutual customers. Thomson Reuters and Ex Libris recognize the value libraries receive from the integration of Web of Science into Primo Central and we are happy to see this relationship continue.

    The Primo community voice was evidently heard by Thomson Reuters, and we encourage you to continue pursuing similar campaigns with other content providers still resisting to participate in Primo Central.

    If you have any comments or additional questions, please feel free to contact [omitted].
    Kind Regards,
    Primo Central Team

    Cool. I have to admit that after I posted the original email from Ex Libris, I started to get paranoid. I couldn’t think of any reason I would be bound not to share that email, and it didn’t have a footer asking us not to share it or anything — but there is so much secrecy in the library vendor industry that I worried someone would get mad at me anyway. But I think transparency is important for us to make progress so I posted it anyway.

    In fact, it would appear that the more publicity the better for such things, and customer response can lead to revised decisions, so I’m glad I posted the original email raising attention for the issue. I hope Ex Libris feels similar!

  2. Are you aware of Thomson Reuters deal with Google Scholar which came out a few days before this email was sent?

    That came a few days before Google’s announcement that they were entering into the citation management business:

    So to make a conjecture: Google and TR made the deal exclusive, TR announced to libraries that Web of Science would no longer have links in any of the main discovery services, TR got a huge push-back from librarians, and they reversed the terms of the deal. But why would TR have put their money on Google and turned its back on the library community?

    And while I agree with your argument that vendors want to lock us in to their interface, what do you make of this deal, which seems to undermine that argument?

  3. I think vendors making ‘exclusive’ deals with other vendors is essentially the same kind of lock in that’s bad for us. We need the ability to be flexible in putting together different vendor’s content and services in different UI platforms, including UI platforms that we control. Whether they are trying to lock us into an in-house platform of their own, or the platform of an affiliated third party they have a deal with doesn’t really change anything, or in my opinion undermine any part of the analysis.

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