Gale Group: Breaking Through Content Barriers

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The Gale Group, existing under the Thomson Corporation's Thomson Learning umbrella, maintains over 600 databases culled from reference-related content as well as magazine and newspaper articles. Traditionally a distributor to academic, public and corporate libraries, Gale Group has been quickly moving into the Web-based information services space-counting LookSmart, Borders, ECNext, and WebMD among its newest partners. "Moving quickly" is a relative term, however. As we frequently point out in this magazine, traditional information content providers move at a comparatively slow pace in Web time-though as we've witnessed first hand, slow and steady still wins a few races.

Jeff Pemberton, chairman of Online Inc., and editor Bill Mickey sat down with Allen Paschal and Chris Morton, CEO and executive vice president, business development, respectively, to discuss among other things the Internet's impact on information aggregation and distribution, the importance of quality indexing, and maintaining a tight grip on the content you put out there.

ECONTENT: What were the factors that changed Gale's business after the Internet became such a force? And how has your content strategy changed and evolved?

ALLEN PASCHAL: Our content and our strategy for building content-whether it's proprietary content or it's licensed content-is really structured around topic or subject disciplines, like history or literature. We tend to build around those because what we recognize is that good quality, very deep content, is rare in research, and that's what Gale provides to people who study those disciplines. The majority of our people are students in most library settings.

On the corporate side, we actually have, from what we can tell, the largest private company database. It's very deep with very deep fields, which is appreciated by corporate librarians. We also produce our own content there. Chris's job is to work with other Thomson companies, and we bring in the finest Thomson financial content and, as you know, aggregate that into different products like our business and company resource centers.

CHRIS MORTON: At the heart of our value is the company authority file. That is really the basis that makes our data set not only deep and strong, like Allen said, but also retrieves very quickly against the search engines. We're finding out that as time goes by there are more resellers who see the vocabulary and its indexing adds a lot of value.

ECONTENT: To what extent are you trying to sell directly into corporate intranets?

PASCHAL: We don't. Gale strictly licenses content to other parties that sell to those.

ECONTENT: Is that a growing segment of your business?

MORTON: Definitely a growing part of the business. The part of the business that Allen is referring to, [which] we sometimes call the reseller channel, is very focused on taking our Gale content into other companies with their brands and having it represented in a variety of markets, like the corporate intranet market. Some of our big clients-like NewsEdge or OneSource or Dialog-cross the closed-system space out into the open space at companies like LookSmart, by taking our content and finding customers across the world.

ECONTENT: I have a question about your search engine. If your content is being distributed via Dialog then presumably a person chooses either Dialog Classic or the Web version. At that point then your search engine does not come into play. Is that correct?

PASCHAL: That is correct.

ECONTENT: So when it does come into play you're selling directly. Is that chiefly to public and academic libraries?

PASCHAL: Public, academic and k-12 libraries. We also do sell direct, in some cases, to some government institutions.

ECONTENT: Incidentally, when you make a partnership deal with a content provider, where does the data reside? Does it come on to your computer or are you networking and sending people over to them?  direct, in some cases, to some government institutions.

MORTON: It's both. In a lot of cases we ftp on a daily basis a file to a company for use in their disk farm. Or, we have an API that's available in some sophisticated environments where clients can work off of our service.

ECONTENT: Okay, I think I would like to go back to our first question because I'm not quite sure in my mind that I understand how you have changed your approach to content from its traditional form. You're building vertical files, right?

PASCHAL: Right.

ECONTENT: And you've always done that?

PASCHAL: Correct. The Internet hasn't fundamentally changed our strategy. The Internet has actually enabled our business because it has created a whole new universe of online searchers, but it hasn't fundamentally changed the core of our business, which, I might throw in, is a core business that has a sustainable business model.

The whole reason for forming the Gale Group was to bring information assets that no one else has. We have competitors that certainly carry periodical material and then sell that into a corporate environment or wherever. We had that with our old Information Access Company. We combined that content set with proprietary content from Gale Research. Then we built in links between those that are seamless to the user. It's a rich and powerful information asset that's all linked together with common vocabulary. And one thing Gale is known for is our very in-depth vocabulary and tagging. No one else has that. We've got over 500 editors that build proprietary content. I call it kind of the foundation of the house-the proprietary content of the house.

MORTON: You have very rich data sets that then become something that, on my side of the house, are available to others for their brands. So we can parse through that on any dimension. If they want to take a company look or they want to take an event in history or they want to have a geographic look, regardless, we can provide very rich solutions of all those types of data on a particular topic because of its depth and because of the vocabulary. The vocabulary is a very key asset at Gale that is coming to the fore. We recognize it now as something that people want to license. We've already got customers who are licensing just our vocabulary.

PASCHAL: Chris brought up a good point because one of the assets that I left out is our Primary Source material. One of the things that we combined when we created the Gale Group was Primary Source Media, one of the largest sources of microfilmed documents. We've been digitizing that data starting with the stuff that is the most germane to common searches. Let's say you're researching something relative to World War II and Winston Churchill. [Our database] is the only place that you can actually find an article in a magazine through the periodical stuff; or a journal combined with a biography that is written originally by Gale, along with original maps or Winston Churchill's private papers that have been digitized.

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