As you may have heard by now, Ingenta's sales and marketing consultancy division, PCG turns 25 years old in 2015. We plan to mark the year-long celebration by releasing new industry insights, presenting conference panels around the world and hosting a few festivities. But even as we focus on the future of publishing, we’re taking a moment to indulge in a little nostalgic reflection on where we’ve come from as a company and as an industry.
So where were you in 1990? It was the beginning of the decade that saw the rise of the Seattle sound, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web and the founding of Publishers Communication Group by one international publishing entrepreneur Charles Germain.
Charles founded PCG in Cambridge, MA seeing an opportunity to help publishers make sense of the changes occurring in the global library market such as fast evolving technologies and shrinking acquisition budgets. Charles was born and raised in France, but worked for Faxon in the Netherlands as Managing Director of Faxon Europe for 6 years. In this capacity he developed a network with Libraries all over Europe and the Middle East. This is where he realized that many of the issues European librarians and scientists had to deal with were lost and never made it to the publishers. It was clear to Charles that most publishers were much more product-oriented than market-oriented and that he could offer them a unique way to market to libraries.
After moving to the US, he also realized the advantage European publishers would gain from understanding “the big” and fast moving American library market. So, helped by funding from Richard Rowe, he started calling librarians, making on-site visits and writing detailed reports on his findings, which publishers had never seen before. In the process, he managed to visit libraries in every state in the US. His first client was Gauthier Villars, which published the Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences and during his first year, he impressively invoiced $80,000 (with a staff of one!). Soon after that, American publishers noticed how valuable his research was and became interested in reaching out to the US markets as well as in Europe and Japan. In the spring of 1995, for example, APS launched Applied Physics Letters online, one of the very first online journals. Charles had two weeks to contact a thousand libraries to find the right person to talk to, introduce the journal, and provide instruction on an entirely new format. In a matter of hours, he recruited a team in Cambridge, trained them and completed the project on time!
For the first three years, he worked only with two part-time staff members, but the team quickly expanded to include Doug Wright and Susan Dearborn. Once American publishers became interested in the European market, Charles traveled all around Europe to visit librarians and researchers. At the time, libraries were so honored that publishers would go out of their way to visit them that the visits were always extremely positive and productive. This type of visit was also so rare and so important that one researcher in Pisa actually waited patiently for three hours, while Charles was making his way through the maze of Italian libraries and traffic.
He continued to make library visits around the world, hired more international colleagues from Europe, Japan, Latin America to reach out to all countries in their native language. In the process, he developed a strong network of researchers and librarians who knew and trusted him that he could also poll at any time.
By 1997, PCG was 15 team members strong and expanding its reach at a fast pace. By then Duncan Spence had acquired Rowe’s shares and helped in the acquisition of UK-based publishers. Even though he did not want to stop the adventure, Charles and Duncan Spence decided to sell PCG to Ingenta when the opportunity arose. This is when he joined Rowecom as the head of the international business for another three years of traveling around the world.
What stumbles did scholarly publishers make in the transition from print to digital in the early days of selling such content to libraries?
There was a lack of understanding of how libraries worked. Publishers had a good understanding of authors’ needs as well as readers’ needs, but were not really tooled to handle an electronic distribution system. The first steps to the digital age brought a lot of chaos. Not only was the technology not always reliable or simply wrong (equations were particularly problematic), but also basic procedures were not thought through, such as distributing directly to readers based on passwords only. It is only when libraries were allowed to collect the IP addresses that the system became more coherent. PCG was very effective in connecting publishers and libraries together, with tens of thousands of phone calls and hundreds of library visits across the continents.
Publishers were faced with the issues of new electronic pricing models and package deals. How many people could be allowed to access an electronic journal at the same time? How do you charge for a journal subscription that could be linked to an entire statewide university system? In addition, the notion of “just in time” instead of “just in case” needed to be tackled with online publishing. No longer was it necessary to keep material on the shelf, when online access was enabled. However, the thorny issue of archiving was a real conundrum for publishers. How long should material be kept online, and how much access should a library be entitled to, if it had an electronic subscription only? How should the material be archived, and for what period of time? How could publishers and libraries guarantee that electronic media would be accessible as technology changes over the years? It is with strong cooperation with libraries and library consortia that these issues were resolved.
When did scholarly communication truly begin to globalize such that US publishers needed to reach European markets and vice versa; and Western publishers started experimenting with emerging markets?
Early on, it was a “pull” demand driven by researchers. Long before globalization, scientists and researchers—and therefore publishers and libraries—felt the need to bypass borders to progress in their fields. IFLA was created in 1927! After World War II, we saw a huge need for researchers to share their findings and their views across borders and as a result, a large number of new publications, distributors, facilitators, and points of access were created. The “push” phenomenon came in the 1980s, with market globalization and development of new communication technologies. For a decade, publishers, libraries, and distributors really had the chance to grow. And they did.
What stands out as the biggest lesson learned in your travels and efforts to connect publishers and librarians?
The first thing I learned is the dominance of the English language in science and technology. I recall a national library meeting in South Korea where all the papers were in Korean, but you could hear English library jargon, such as “archiving” and “catalogs,” in the Korean presentations. The second is that the western concept of sharing ideas and scientific discoveries to create a common knowledge has been beneficial to progress in many areas, not only in science but also in politics. The world has changed more through free exchange of discoveries and ideas than wars. I remember a time when we had to leave our laptops (Toshibas) at the borders of Eastern Europe before attending a library meeting. We would get them back later, on returning back home and submitting our receipts (who knows what they had done with them), but I believe that this attitude towards science and discoveries was the reason for the demise of all dictatorships. I remember meetings in China and Japan in the nineties that clearly demonstrated that these countries were not playing by the same copyright and business rules as ours. I saw Latin America rising up and opening their conferences and their minds to Anglo-American ideas and to new technologies as well. It has been quite an experience that I want to bring to filmmaking now.
Today, Charles Germain resides in Maryland, having left the publishing industry entirely. He is currently Principal and Film Director at his latest venture, Chesapeake Clear Video. Janet Fisher is PCG’s Senior Publishing Consultant. For the latest about PCG’s Silver Anniversary features and events, follow #PCG25 on twitter and visit pcgplus.com/PCG25.