ProQuest announced today that it has acquired WebFeat. Library Journal interviewed Serials Solutions general manager Jane Burke about the acquisition. Serials Solutions was acquired by ProQuest several years ago. Consolidation has occurred in the federated search industry.
Is there a story behind the story? I can only speculate, and I will — ProQuest bought WebFeat for its customer base. ProQuest already has federated search offerings through its business unit, Serials Solutions. Both WebFeat and Serials Solutions are known for their low-cost offerings and business models based on providing federated search as a service. WebFeat has sold federated search solutions to consortia (Serials Solutions hasn’t) and WebFeat has a large number of customers in that market. More customers means more service to sell. At one time Serials Solutions licensed their connectors from WebFeat. They no longer do. Plus, the press release stated that WebFeat founder and CEO Todd Miller would only be remaining with WebFeat briefly, as a consultant. So, this doesn’t strike me as a technology play even though Burke, in her interview with Library Journal, mentions a couple of WebFeat’s features that would complement Serials Solutions’ 360 Search.
In August, CARE Affiliates, a company that provides products and services to libraries based on open source software announced it was licensing WebFeat connectors for use with MasterKey’s federated search service at an annual cost that is lower than WebFeat’s. I don’t really understand why WebFeat licensed its connector technology to a competitor entering the same federated search market as WebFeat.
Maybe we have an answer now: The guaranteed revenue was more important to WebFeat than additional service revenue it might acquire if it didn’t make the deal. If WebFeat needed cash then it might not have wanted to take the risk of not signing this deal. And, being acquired by ProQuest, which is part of deep-pocketed Cambridge Information Group (CIG), will certainly help if cash was, in fact, an issue.
I have questions. Here’s one: What is CIG going to do with its three federated search offerings? CIG subsidiary CSA has a federated search offering through MuseGlobal. ProQuest has federated search through Serials Solutions. Now ProQuest has acquired WebFeat. And, remember, Serials Solutions at one time licensed its connectors from WebFeat. My guess is that ProQuest will convert WebFeat users to Serials Solutions technology and the interview with Burke hints at that as well. But, that assumes that ProQuest views the Serials Solution technology as superior to the WebFeat technology, in particular, the connectors. Burke comments that Serials Solutions’ results are better which hints that its connectors might be better as well. Connector quality is a major factor in the quality of a federated search product’s results so whatever decision ProQuest makes in how to combine the two products will greatly impact the quality of the resulting new offering. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can compare the quality of connectors from the two companies. Also, Abe has predicted in his year-end post that CSA’s MultiSearch product, the one from MuseGlobal, would be replaced by Serials Solutions’ 360 Search. We’ll see.
Another question: What about the deal where CARE Affiliates has licensed use of a large number of WebFeat connectors? I raised questions when it was announced and now I wonder what ProQuest thinks of this deal. Will something change due to this acquisition?
And, the big question: What does this acquisition mean for customers and vendors of federated search? Here’s what I think. First, I think prospective customers will be reluctant to buy WebFeat products for a time, at least until the dust settles. While there may be some hesitation to invest in Serials Solutions products right now, ProQuest being the acquiring company means that there will probably be less turmoil on the Serials Solution side. Second, I think other vendors of federated search, including the open source providers, will benefit from this period of unknown. And, third, with the competition between the low-cost offerings of both Serials Solutions and WebFeat vanished, I suspect that prices will rise overall in the industry, at least for a while.
It will be very interesting to see how this consolidation plays out. I’ll keep my eye on this acquisition and report news and opinion as events unfold.