ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
March 2003 No.44  
   In this issue

CABI chooses iGroup's eBridge platform  
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 recently met Tony Llewellyn, CABI Managing Director, to find out more.
  CABI today is very different from five years ago. What happened?
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 ventures. 
  What 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 lead. 
  What led you in the direction of eBridge which is after all an Asian product?
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.
  Where 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.
  With 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. 
  CABI 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.
  Is the Vietnam agriculture research project an example of this?
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.
Tony Llewellyn, CABI Managing Director
  How 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.
  What about localising some of your new products like the compendiums?
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. 
  CABI 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 this?
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 our connectivity. 
  Is 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 Development 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?
Probably not!
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