CABI, one of the worlds' oldest and
respected database publishers, is changing. The last few years have
seen a transformation from a stodgy publisher of agriculture A&I
journals, to a life sciences electronic publisher and provider of
consulting expertise. It's also put its database on several
subscription services and for its own implemetation of the CABI
database, has chosen the iGroup's eBridge platform. ACCESS
met Tony Llewellyn, CABI Managing Director, to find out more.
today is very different from five years ago. What
CABI was old
fashioned, set in its ways, introspective, low profile, shy
and retiring, and our people didn't get out very much. We
weren't market focused. We inherited a civil servant mentality
that was stultified and complacent. So not unsurprisingly we
decided to change the culture. Three years ago we created CABI
publishing so that people knew what our business was. We also
decided not to call ourselves 'publishers in agriculture' but
'publishers in the applied life sciences' because if you look
at our publishing asset base it is agriculture but with a lot
wrapped round it. So we had a culture change, a change of
name, a change of direction - more outward looking - and we
have built around our core asset which is the database, a
primary journal programme and a books programme. So in fact we
are a primary, secondary and tertiary publisher. The other
driver coincidental with this is the internet - the migration
from print and CD-ROM to the internet. We've not just migrated
our products to the web: we've created new products
particularly communities, of which we have five in animal
science, nutrition, organic farming, leisure and tourism, and
agricultural biotechnology. We're testing the water with
different mixes of content. We've also developed a business
model for a new range of multimedia products called Compendia
in Crop Protection, Animal Health and Production, Forestry and
Aquaculture, the latter concentrating on Southeast Asia. They
represent a serious and new dimension to our publishing
brings you to Asia?
In Bangkok I'm here to talk to the
iGroup about the development of a new platform, eBridge, which
will host our CAB Direct product and the subset parts of the
database which we intend to build on and attach our community
products. After Bangkok we move to Beijing where we opened an
office in the building of The Chinese Academy of Agricultural
Sciences, CAAS, with whom we will work on a number of
initiatives. We're also hoping to talk to three Chinese
organisations about co-publishing in English some carefully
selected Chinese primary journals which fit our subject
profile; and we're also talking to other institutions about
accessing new content that we think is important for
development of our database in topics where China has a
led you in the direction of eBridge which is after all an
There aren't many platforms and
there isn't a lot of choice! Our relationship with our current
supplier has been good but it doesn't get us to where we want
to be. With the iGroup we have the opportunity to build a long
term future with a smaller partner. Together we'll focus on
the features which the users want and demand. There aren't
many shows in town and they are usually part of larger
conglomerates with a larger and disparate agenda. We have an
equal partnership It's a good start.
will you be using eBridge?
We will host it on a server in
London. With the agreement of the iGroup we'll have the
ability to effectively control the fine tuning and day to day
adjustments of the software.
offices in China and India, does your presence in Asia mean
that you'll be publishing in Asian languages?
Our initial thinking is that there
are China-specific elements of content that can enhance our
database which would be translated into English. We are
looking at primary content to publish in innovative ways, not
necessarily through journals, adding content to existing print
and electronic products that we have. In terms of language,
with the iGroup we are thinking of adding local language front
ends to our databases for the Chinese market. This will be an
important development for us.
also acts as a consultant. What's that about?
As with every secondary database
publisher, we seek to add value and to compensate for
declining top-line revenues. One of the assets that we've been
looking at and quietly invested in over a long period in terms
of people and actual assets, is in information science and
management. For a long time we've built around our CAB
thesaurus which we continue to add terms to, a navigational
tool kit which we think is important for the future in the
CrossRef and Open Archives environment. We have a contribution
to make and the space isn't much occupied. Just recently we
won a contract where several of our people are acting as the
catalyst for a large project which organises and shapes policy
for the management of a UK government department's
information. So here is a precedent which I'm sure we can
replicate. In fact we're talking to equivalent departments in
Canada and Malaysia, Australia too. It's clear to me
information management is of serious interest to governments.
We do intend to adopt that model and move it into other
markets, not least Southeast Asia. I must add that our
thesaurus in which we continue to invest and which is now web
enabled, we make freely available under license to not for
profit organisations including colleges and universities.
the Vietnam agriculture research project an example of
It's a demonstration of our
Publishing Division working in conjunction with our
Information for Development Division. CABI is a not for profit
body. As such part of our mission is to help developing
countries with their information management. In this case we
work in conjunction with a World Bank project on higher
education which helps Vietnam's universities build up their
libraries, but there was no parallel facility for government
departments. The Information Department in the Department of
Agriculture highlighted their need for information management
and training. So we received external funding and the
Vietnamese also put up some funds.
Llewellyn, CABI Managing Director
important is Asia to CABI's overall health?
It's fair to say that we are no
different from any other STM global publisher. Eighty percent
of our income derives from the northern hemisphere and Japan.
But markets like India have always accounted for about 3-4
percent of what we do. And Southeast Asia has a clear
potential for growth. The potential for China is huge.
Hitherto I've been sceptical about the hype surrounding
China's potential. But now I think it's starting to deliver in
terms of market return for publishers like us. We're certainly
developing our relationships with content providers in China;
and through the iGroup gaining access to that market. That's
new for us and it's the future. Beyond China and excluding
Japan it's reasonable to say that we have increasing
expectation of Malaysia - it's a large and thriving country
and we have an office there. Vietnam too is increasing in
importance. Southeast Asia is an exciting area and I'm happy
that we've invested in our sales reach with Tristan Barter
being based in the region and with our offices in Asia. We're
putting our money where our mouth is so we're hoping that this
region is where our future revenues will be coming from.
Informatics in India has published
CABSAC, a subset of CABI. Are you looking to lease parts of
your data to content providers?
My understanding of CABSAC is that
it was not a success. A few years ago I thought publishing
some of our data with local data would be interesting. But the
results haven't proved that to be right. So I'm not enamoured
of an international publisher producing local products for
local markets. We operate in an international STM market and
people are looking for international information.
about localising some of your new products like the
Language is always raised as an
issue. The costs to put material into another language always
outweigh their potential in my opinion. If somebody has deep
pockets to create these products, fine, but we won't be first
to do it. But we should pay attention to front ending our
English language products so that it's an inducement to go
further into our products.
has been slow to link full text material to its database yet a
lot of the hard copy is sitting in your offices. Why is
We know that it's an imperative for
our database to be linked to primary electronic content. That
said, doing it is not at all easy. I have to say that the
principle reason why we hosted our data with ingenta is the
linking of the journals they have, to us. CrossRef of course
makes a large difference. We have been more promiscuous in the
way that we have made our database available. It's now
provided on the EBSCO platform, through ISI's Web of Knowledge
and there we benefit from all the publisher agreements that
ISI has made over the years, and through Ovid and
SilverPlatter who as part of the Kluwer family give us
connectivity into health and biomedicine and food literature.
So philosophically it's always been our intention to link to
primary sources but the 'doing' isn't as simple as librarians
or commentators would like to think. It's very difficult to do
but we're trying very hard. The iGroup will also contribute to
CABI now self supporting?
Until about 1993
the whole of CABI was funded by member country contributions.
That changed and now just 3 percent is from membership fees.
So in 2002 we're proud to be self sufficient. Within CABI, the
publishing operation has to operate within a commercial
environment and deliver a surplus to reinvest in its own
business and in CABI bioscience activities which don't make
money. We're highly successful financially and we're self
sustaining. One thing that unifies the bioscience and
publishing activity is our Information for Development
programme. It's centred on the publishing group but it is a
deliverer of our mission and there we use both our assets.
We've just launched a major document called Knowledge for
which details how
CABI as an organisation fits into the development agenda. I'm
proud to say that we have modernised ourselves
Agricola, AGRIS, CABI. Does the world
need three large agriculture databases?