Wim Luijendijk

General Manager

EBSCO Information Services Europe

P.O. Box 204



Tel: +31 297 386 386

FAX: +31 297 386 382

E-mail: wluijend@ebsco.com


"The wise Gods cover with the darkness of night

the issues of the future

and they laugh

if a mortal is anxious beyond what is right”


It is very clear that computer based information technologies will both enhance and alter the present communications system of scientific information. At present, we need to distinguish between modernization and transformation of scientific information.

Modernization is defined as the use of a new technology to continue to do the same thing, but presumably in a more cost effective or efficient manner, whereas transformation is the use of a new technology to change a process in a fundamental way.

We are in the middle of an information revolution and the latest statistics show more than 125 million people worldwide have access to the Web. There are over 2 million home pages that enable shopping, reading of the daily news and the ability to search for an almost endless amount of information.

Librarians and academic officers began in the early 1990s to explore the capabilities of electronic technologies as solutions to the problem of scholarly communications in print form. The advantages of electronic publications are numerous and have been widely discussed, hence, we will only briefly enumerate them:

I would now like to comment on how the changing economics of the information industry are influencing publishers, subscription agencies and information aggregators and what this will mean for libraries and their consumers of scientific information.


More and more publishers are making their paper journals electronically available and most publishers will allow subscription agencies to function as an intermediary. Two major STM publishers, Academic Press and Elsevier Science, so far prefer to deal directly with libraries. This strategy is based upon the fact that libraries all over the world are forming consortia, not only regional but also in some areas even national and most recently even transnational. We at EBSCO however believe that this policy sometime in the future will change as many individual libraries worldwide will remain that are no part of any consortium and rely on the banking function that subscription agencies historically have been offering. You all know that most publishers require payments in advance before any piece of information is being delivered. For those libraries that cannot pay in advance subscription agencies will do this for them and this will be no different in the world of electronic information. It is interesting to share with you some concerns which were raised by the University of Wisconsin-Madison which has signed an agreement with Elsevier. In the paper world they subscribe to about 600 of the 1,200 titles which Elsevier has offered via their Science Direct program to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. However, as I understand it rather than having access in electronic format to the 600 journals they used to subscribe to in paper they will get electronic access to all the 1,200 titles.

The cost will be based upon the number of Elsevier print subscriptions, calculated at the 1997 prices, plus an annual surcharge. The contract would run for three years. First year cost: 1997 list price plus 7.5%. Second year: cost of first year plus 9.5%. Third year: cost of second year plus 9.5%. In 1997 they paid Elsevier $844,677 for the 600 print subscriptions they take. The administration of the university estimates that this formula would result in a price in excess of one million dollars for the first year of the deal. Therefore, it appears that Elsevier would collect an additional $449,348 over the three year period. Moreover, the initial estimate for the cost to a library of mounting the database is between $70,000 to $100,000.


It seems obvious to that this deal is designed to carry Elsevier's enviable profit margins safely into the electronic era. Or, seen from the perspective of a librarian, it is a way to perpetuate the "serials crisis" into the indefinite, electronic future. Admittedly, some universities might find this very seductive. Imagine! All that access and Elsevier locked into what might be considered modest increases for this publisher for two years.

But just how valuable is this access? The libraries should keep in mind that they are being asked to pay not only for the more successful titles that they have been forced to retain despite their mind boggling prices, but also for all the low-use, high-cost titles that many of them have canceled years ago. It seems that publishers have hit upon a brilliant, "back-to-the-future" strategy, a return (via electronic vehicle) to the good old days of sum-sufficient serials budgets when librarians eagerly subscribed to every promising journal, knowing that the money would not come out of library budgets, but from some vaguely understood but seemingly limitless central library fund.

The publishers, of course, such as Elsevier and Academic Press, can hardly be blamed for wanting to make lots of money. They have only done what successful companies do: identify a promising new market (growing numbers of scholars/scientists who must publish to survive), devise a product to meet the need (new journals), and then charge as much as the market will bear.

Subscription Agencies

Every company is a collection of activities that are performed to design, market, deliver and support its products or services. All these activities we call a value chain and the way a company performs individual activities is a reflection of its history, its strategy, its approach to implementing its strategy and the underlying economics of the activities themselves.

The changing economics of information threaten to undermine established value chains in many sectors of the economy requiring virtually every company to rethink its strategy, not incrementally but fundamentally.

At EBSCO we have been making fundamental changes. Still many publishers are not thinking about electronic journals. Therefore, EBSCO has been working for over ten years now to obtain the rights from publishers to put their journals in an electronic file. At present we have over 3,100 journals which are not available directly from the publishers and therefore only available electronically via EBSCO. At present, we therefore differ from other subscription agencies who are operating globally, such as Blackwell's, Dawson and Swets.

Our historical competitors such as Swets and Blackwell's and Dawson so far have only made some incremental changes in developing an online journal system which offers access capabilities for end-users and administrative functions for librarians. However, EBSCO Online does the same but will give access to more, as through EBSCO Publishing we will have full text data which none of our historical subscription competitors will have.

The basic functions that an electronic journal subscription handling system will offer are:

We already have technical complications here as so far there are no standards. At present basically three major software packages to obtain access are being used by the publishing community. Those are:

1. Acrobat from Adobe

2. IBM Tech Explorer

3. Real Page from Catchword

We are facing other practical problems as outlined by Richard Luce, Director of Carmel Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library last year during an EBSCO seminar in Boston.

To give you an idea of the scope of what they are doing, they currently track 5,200 electronic based journals (some of these are self-published items from the Los Alamos physics community network). They have a database that includes 13.5 million citations, 95 million hyperlinks and 200 million cited references. The citations, hyperlinks and cited references are all linked together with their online catalog and this is done through robotically generated lines of software code from a program that they have developed. In developing these links they are guided and driven by the effort to build databases around how people need to get to the information. Everything is integrated with their catalog and citation databases and the bottom line for them is speed. He indicated that their customers (researchers) expect web access with links and integrated with the library catalog so that they have one place to go and one common user interface. They expect everything to be hyperlinked, with new associations and easy to view on the screen with printing capability. Their user community also wants an alerting service based upon their own personal interest profile and they expect to be able to search and retrieve full text from their databases regardless of who the publisher is. A checklist of concerns he reviewed are as follows:

Information Aggregators

An information aggregator signs individual agreements with publishers in order to obtain the rights for a particular journal to abstract, index and also to obtain the rights for full text. This can be obtained from the publisher if it is available or the information aggregator receives the permission from the publisher to convert the full text from print format into an electronic format. This information is then being packaged by subject and sold under different names to the marketplace worldwide. The major companies which are offering scientific information in packaged format are:

  1. UMI
  2. IAC
  3. H.W. Wilson
  4. SilverPlatter (only secondary databases and only abstracts and indexes)
  5. OVID Technologies
  6. EBSCO Publishing
  7. OCLC

Those parallel developments are certainly very exciting but offer additional challenges to those companies which are either functioning as an intermediary or as a packager of information.

The packagers will have the full text of many a journal residing on their servers. The companies which are offering an online subscription service program most likely will have to link to numerous individual publisher servers in order to offer access to the information preferably to the end user from their workstations.

At EBSCO already we are matching the two together and in EBSCO's MEDLINE for instance, the new version which just came out, via the MEDLINE database we offer direct access to the full text of 61 journals in the medical sciences, all residing on our servers in Boston. Later this year we will link all other titles which are full text available from the various publishers and to which the library using this service has the rights to access the full text. One can imagine that this is not an easy job to accomplish as when a publisher's server is down the results cannot be obtained and we have to have systems in place to monitor this and to retrieve again what has not been submitted.

Last but not least, the problems of access as well as archiving if one looks at the tremendous volume of bits and bytes which will be accumulated on an annual basis, will not be easy to deal with.

If the information is stored on a floppy disk, optical disk or tape, one must first have the hardware and software to accommodate the medium such as an optical reader or system with appropriate disk-to-tape drives, and the correct version of the software program used to store the data. If the information is stored in a remote location, but is accessible through software, one must have the necessary software to locate and retrieve or download it. Additionally, one must have the necessary software to access or read the data. This introduces many problems and questions. Electronic journals, just like print journals, are produced with a variety of software programs that run on several different hardware platforms. As electronic journals become more sophisticated to include photos or graphics or even become multimedia, the number of formats will likely increase. Many programs or formats for these journals will come and go, just like word processing products have done and continue to do.

"Technology refreshing”, whereby electronic information is transferred from one waning medium to an emerging one, will need to be practiced. It will be a challenging task for the group or person who wants to archive and provide easy, universal access over the long run.

The Information Age has done much to change the way we look at our industry and the library profession and the way in which we deliver information. Changing times call for a changing mind set.

But all the new technology which we are developing must be with the end user in mind as otherwise it will become useless. The problem we are facing at present is whether we can construct a system that users will find comfortable in making broad use of electronic journals as a substitute for printed ones, not only for today's information, but for all the information we have produced and will be producing from now onwards until many generations in the future.

If we are not successful in not offering access to what has previously been recorded, I could end this presentation by using an interesting thesis from the book Die Stadt hinter dem Strom by Herman Kasack:

"Wäre das Gilgamesch Epos, wären die Gesänge der Upanishaden oder die Homers das Tao te King, oder die Göttliche Komödie um nur einige der alten Tafelwerke herauszugreifen nicht aufgezeichnet worden, so würde die Welt des Menschen sich heute von der Welt der Ameisen nicht mehr unterscheiden.”

Thank you for your attention,

Wim Luijendijk



  1. Malinconico, Michael. Electronic Documents and Research Libraries. IFLA Journal 22 (1996) 3.

  1. Luijendijk, Wim. Archiving Electronic Journals: The Serial Information Provider's Perspective. IFLA Journal 22 (1996) 3.

  1. Luce, Richard. Acquiring, Accessing and Managing Online Journals. Presentation at EBSCO's Academic Seminar, The Netherlands, March 1997.

  1. Lynch, Clifford. Technology and its Implications for Serials Acquisition. Against the Grain, February 1997.

  1. Rouse, Ken. The Serials Crisis in the Age of Electronic Access. Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues, No. 177 (May 1997)

  1. Kasack, Herman. Die Stadt hinter dem Strom (1946)