EBSCO, Gale Spar Over Exclusivity

January 26, 2010

Two major database companies are at loggerheads over exclusivity in the provision of periodical content. EBSCO published an open letter (PDF file) to the library community January 25 in response to an open letter Gale Cengage Learning published the week before. At issue is what EBSCO calls mischaracterization of its actions and intentions by Gale, which had expressed concern over what Gale calls the practice of “locking up” a periodical publisher’s content with a single information provider.

The Gale letter warned librarians with a specific example: “If you currently receive Time Inc. or Forbes periodical content electronically from Gale or any provider other than EBSCO, you and your patrons will lose access to that content over the next year,” the letter says. “While there will remain alternative, high-quality titles in all information providers’ products, there will be an impact on users, especially those who access content through long-term statewide subscriptions.”

Signed by John Barnes, Gale executive vice president for marketing and business development, the letter goes on to say, “During this time of economic distress, Gale strongly believes that vendors should support libraries with advocacy efforts and sponsorships, and provide tools to increase usage rather than engage in practices that raise the entire cost structure of electronic resources. In the end, information providers who artificially drive up content licensing fees will have to pass those costs on to their customers. Gale believes this is fundamentally wrong.”

Signed by Sam Brooks, EBSCO senior vice president, the rebuttal letter states, “While Gale is correct that ongoing full text for Forbes will be available via some EBSCOhost full-text databases and not Gale’s, their depiction of the way this happened is not accurate. In fact, Forbes told us that they received multiple bids from library market aggregators and simply decided to go with EBSCO. EBSCO is already the only place for libraries to offer their patrons online access to the majority of the most important general periodicals and we knew if we did not retain the content being discussed here that EBSCO customers would be forced to buy periodical databases from a second aggregator.”

Brooks goes on to say that “many libraries can save money by avoiding full-text database vendor duplication. It is understandable that Gale would be upset about this, but the reality is that they had the opportunity to make the necessary investment to retain the content on behalf of their customers. Now that they no longer have to pay for many very important publications, it will be interesting to see if they will be providing substantial discounts to their existing customers.”

The spitting match between EBSCO and Gale gained steam after the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston, January 15–19, when the ALA Council list lit up with commentary. Bernard Margolis described EBSCO’s action as “a sea-change,” opining that it would “impact every library as exclusivity translates into exorbitant costs for these exclusive materials.”

Others were less quick to question EBSCO’s business practices. ALA Headquarters Librarian Karen Muller told American Libraries she was not sure how the company’s agreements differed from, for example, Dow Jones material only being available on "exorbitantly expensive Factiva and not through Lexis or Dialog or even EBSCO.” She noted, “I can’t tell you what all I've explored to get Wall Street Journal content electronically. A site license would be thousands—and it’s a violation to get an individual account at $100 and share it.”

One thing is certain: Librarians nationwide will be watching closely to see how EBSCO's exclusive-rights deals make their way into library budgets. Referring to "the speculation flying back and forth about what it will ultimately mean for libraries, library patrons, and other database vendors," Nancy Robertson, state librarian of Michigan, noted on the Michlib electronic discussion list that “we are aware of the situation and are evaluating the issues and options” and “will be working closely with all of the MeL database vendors.”


Change at American University

Managing for change and continuous improvement