Wednesday, January 21, 2009

LibraryThing and CIG—the deal!

LibraryThing has just partnered up with Cambridge Information Group, which owns Bowker, AquaBrowser, ProQuest, Serials Solutions and RefWorks.

The deal went down as follows:
  • CIG bought a minority stake in LibraryThing. I still own a majority of the company myself.
  • CIG, through Bowker, is now the exclusive distributor of LibraryThing for Libraries, our cool catalog-enhancement project. LTFL puts tags, recommendations and reviews directly into your library catalog (see the Seattle Public Library for an example).
It is an excellent deal. We got a new minority owner, with a lot of experience in the book world (but with different strengths than our other minority partner, AbeBooks), much-needed growth money and a great opportunity to reach more libraries.

There is no downside whatsoever. Nothing else has changed. Member data stays with us, under the same rules. All our free, public or Creative-Commons data, including covers, stays as it was. Management and majority ownership stay with me. We stay small, quirky and in Maine.

Selling LibraryThing for Libraries. We are overjoyed that Bowker is taking over sales and marketing of LibraryThing for Libraries. LibraryThing for Libraries has been a success, with almost 150 libraries so far.* But we aren't salespeople—the libraries mostly came to us. Sonya has done a great job as stand-in-salesperson, but neither she or anyone else at LibraryThing has sales experience, let alone to libraries. We're programmers and librarians!

Partnering with Bowker and its extraordinary sales team gives us the chance to reach out to many more libraries—and lets the LibraryThing team do what we do best—make things.

Don't worry. LibraryThing for Libraries pricing isn't changing. We're still in charge of tech support. And we'll still be going to the big library conferences and usually have our own booth—jumping over to Bowker's for presentations and such. The rhino stays. We just have more people to rhinotoss with.**

Moola. LibraryThing has been profitable for a while, but we didn't have much of a cushion. It was a nail-biter. We needed servers and new employees, but what if we had a few down months? And did I mention the economy is sick? (Cut to Tim worrying.)

The CIG deal frees us from worry and gives us room to grow. While the rest of the economy downsizes, we're going to build and hire. We had already bought two new servers and brought on an employee and a temp to replace Abby for a while. More is coming. Did I mention we're hiring? Oh, we're also looking for library programmers, wherever.**

Partners. For us the big sell was the Bowker sales team and the opportunity to work with some talented technical people. We look forward to working with Bowker, ProQuest and Serials Solutions. (We did get a sneak-peak at Serials Solution's new "Summon" product, a sort of Google for your library—and think it's excellent.) But we're particularly happy to talk to the people at AquaBrowser, a wonderfully innovative Dutch company acquired by CIG last year. We've had a crush on AquaBrowser for some time now. Theirs was the first library catalog software (OPAC) to integrate LibraryThing for Libraries content directly into their software—a deal cemented in ten minutes over sushi and beer. We are going to try hard to think up projects that require face-to-face meetings in Amsterdam.

As a side deal, some LibraryThing data will be appearing in Bowker's flagship Books in Print service. This was, however, planned before the larger agreement, and is a data sale like any other—only anonymous or aggregate information is provided. You can change who gets your reviews on your account page—anyone, just libraries or nobody at all.

Our shot. I have a simple internal label for this deal: We are going to get our shot. LibraryThing has done very well considering its humble origins and structure. If we had gone the venture capital route we'd have started with a lot more money, but we'd have to "flip it" about now--just when things were getting exciting. Instead, this deal means we get to keep our souls, and get our full shot at making and LibraryThing for Libraries everything we want them to be. That's a wonderful opportunity.

For members, this is also great news. You've waited a long time for some features, and scaling has been a problem. Everything can't happen right away, but it can happen. With your help and criticism we can continue to build the site you want, and support the community you created.***

*Eighty-five are done by us. The rest get LibraryThing for Libraries data though Aquabrowser MyDiscoveries.
**It wouldn't be LibraryThing if I didn't come as clean as I can. I made some money on the deal. I can't say how much, but it wasn't very much. It was essential to me that most of the money go to the company, because I'd rather have opportunities to do cool things than money and limits. (Kudos to my wife for seeing it this way too!) As you might imagine, I've had offers to sell out, and I've refused them. I am having the time of my frickin' life. My work life was never like that before, and it bleeds over into everything. It is a joy, a pleasure and an honor to be building the scaffolding of site inhabited by so many interesting people doing so many interesting things.
***The averages won't change, but Bowker may ditch our weird self-created metrics (eg., "circulation, but for books only, not counting ILL or renewals" a number absolutely nobody knows).

My thanks to the team at CIG for their patience, particularly CIG President Andy Synder, who wouldn't take no for an answer and guided this deal through many shoals. It's a confident, strategic company that looks ahead like this in a period of financial uncertainty. Thanks as well to Boris, Hannes and Russ at Abebooks and Amazon for sticking with this, to Angela and the team at Bowker who are so clearly going to make this work, and to Jasper and Taco over at AquaBrowser for promising to fly me to Holland—and hey, Curaçao is Dutch, right?—for bi-monthly very important work meetings.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't suppose this will be good news for collections?

*fingers crossed*

1/21/2009 10:11 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Not directly. That's been our main thing for a while, frankly—me and Chris anyway. But Chris and I have both had to spend multiple days babysitting the servers as they freak out on too-high traffic. We can solve those sorts of problems now.

1/21/2009 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim: congrats to you and your team - well done!

1/21/2009 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, congratulations! It's the Big Time!

1/21/2009 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yayyyy! Congrats for LibraryThing! Awesome!

1/21/2009 10:49 PM  
Blogger Parsnip said...

Yay! I'm so glad things are going well for you!

I'd give my right arm to work for LibraryThing (although I'd be of more use WITH my right arm, as I'm right handed). Darn my lack of applicable skills and distant location!

1/22/2009 12:21 AM  
Blogger Prosfilaes said...

So what exactly is appearing in Books in Print? Is it stuff like tags? (I can imagine an index by LibraryThing tags, though I also imagine some editor who spent his life creating indexes going into a apoplectic fit.) Reader counts?

1/22/2009 2:33 AM  
Blogger Klarusu said...

"It wouldn't be LibraryThing if I didn't come as clean as I can. I made some money on the deal."

Ooo, I think we'll let you have it. You have been good after all ;)

Seriously, if it's good for you guys, it's good for LT! Sales is a rotten thing to have to do if it's not your thing in life (*shudders at past experience*) so why not get other who do it well to do it well for you and concentrate on the good stuff. It's always heartening to hear that people enjoy their work - why should it be a grind!

1/22/2009 3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My library uses the AquaBrowser and I like it.
And... if you come to Amsterdam regular, maybe we could organise a meeting for Dutch members who want to see Tim IRL?

1/22/2009 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats! If it makes LT happy, I'm happy too :-) Especially knowing from experience how much of a nightmare marketing and sales are I don't blame you a bit!!

1/22/2009 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet - this is good news for you guys! And I'm hoping my library's aqua browser adopts this info!

Glad to hear that this will help with development as well.

1/22/2009 10:59 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

I'm assuming LibraryThing for Libraries will still work with non AquaBrowser OPACs, but it wasn't clear to me from your post, so I thought I'd check.

Pretty exciting news!

1/22/2009 11:02 AM  
Blogger Bebe (Sarah) Brechner said...

Good move, Tim. I hope this will move more and more libraries to use LibraryThing.

1/22/2009 1:10 PM  
Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Congratulations, Tim. Now we know what all those cryptic status messages on Facebook were about. :-)

I wish Arden Olson was still at Bowker, so you could meet him. He was their sales manager, a forward-thinking guy, and he worked with me on one of the first attempts to create a web-accessible online bookstore catalog. (A certain Seattle company, with far more resources, beat us to the punch.)

1/22/2009 7:33 PM  
Blogger pechmerle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/24/2009 3:17 AM  
Blogger pechmerle said...

"we get to keep our souls" -- I'm usually in favor of that.

1/24/2009 3:20 AM  
Blogger Bob Campbell said...

Will we get a better serials system for use in LT? I see that Ulrich's is part of Bowker, and that is a the standard periodical reference.

1/24/2009 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1/30/2009 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Sounds like nothing but good news.

1/31/2009 7:11 AM  

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