Friday, December 15, 2006

A Step Ahead in the Dance: CSA Acquisition of ProQuest Puts a Question Mark onThomson Learning Spinoff

The announcement of a deal for CSA parent Cambridge Information Group to acquire ProQuest is an interesting acquisition coming at an interesting time. CSA's Illumina interface provides a powerful search interface into scholarly content relating to arts & humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and technology. With the ProQuest acquisition CSA picks up an organization with very deep roots in library services and a much deeper content profile for scientific, technical and medical content, plus centuries-deep electronic archives for newspaper content. The combination of core academic and scholarly content with core news content gives CSA a much different potential profile for its services. Illumina clients will certainly benefit from a broader collection but the combination of these sources also places CSA in a position to offer a wider array of corporate information services, as well.

Not necessarily benefiting from this deal is Thomson's attempted spinoff of Thomson Learning, which Thomson hopes will generate cash for bolstering its position in its financial, legal and pharma markets. While it appears as if the CSA deal for ProQuest has been in the works for a while the timing of the deal in light of Thomson's efforts seems to place it as a pre-emptive effort to position CSA as a more dominant player in library markets against potential rivals scooping up TL assets - and perhaps lowering TL's valuation in the process. This means that acquirers of TL may wind up with more left in their pockets to invest in making it a more effective business unit, which could be good news for buyers, but it may take some shine off the sale from Thomson's perspective.

Challenges in library and academic markets has brought a number of vendors to rethink their portfolios, but in research-intensive markets the demand for high quality research products is not going to disappear. The Googles and the Open Content Alliances of the world will pick more of the low-lying fruit of this sector as time goes on, and they may in time decide to go for the premium offerings to round out their online research offerings, but that's a way down the road at this point. For now consider CSA as having made a good move at a good time to broaden its footprint and to fend off others who may want to find a way to make life difficult for them. Not a bad ending for the ProQuest story, either, given all their recent turmoil. Good luck to all!
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