Information Access Company
Information Access Company
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Thomson Corp.
Incorporated: 1977 as Information Access Corporation
Sales: $110 million (1995)
SICs: 2741 Miscellaneous Publishing; 7373 Computer Integrated Systems Design; 7375 Information Retrieval Services
Information Access Company (IAC) is among the worldwide leaders in providing periodical indexes and the articles accompanying them in electronic form. IAC is also considered a pioneer in the various means of delivery of this information—on microfilm, optical disc, and the Internet—and has developed the software and provided the hardware needed to access its databases. The company’s innovations have helped change the way millions of library users conduct research.
The 1970s: Start-Up Years
IAC had its origins in a consulting business which advised libraries on how to automate their card catalogs. Based in Los Altos, within the high-technology region known as “Silicon Valley,” the start-up was a partnership between Brett Butler, Lyle Priest, and Harold (Buster) Spiwak. Butler held both MBA and Master of Library Science (MLS) degrees and knew the library business well. Spiwak was an entrepreneur with a background in sales. Priest was a computer hardware and software innovator. The three men had already established another company, an enterprise called Information Design, which was engaged in putting library card catalogs on microfilm. They had run this company for several years before selling it.
In 1976, Butler, Priest, and Spiwak got back together to do some consulting work and soon decided to found another company, one that would develop its own index product. They thus took on a fourth partner, Dick Kollin, who had an MLS degree and considerable experience developing periodical indexes in the publishing industry. The new company was incorporated in Los Altos on June 2, 1977 as Information Access Corporation. Buster Spiwak was named chairman of the board, with his wife Phyllis Spiwak serving as secretary and treasurer, while Butler became president and Priest and Kollin each became vicepresidents.
IAC’s first product, largely Kollin’s idea, was Magazine Index, an index of about 400 popular magazines similar in scope to the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Magazine Index, however, was created as a computerized database and was delivered not in printed volumes but as computer-output microfilm. Users read the product through automated microfilm readers, which Priest had pioneered back at Information Design. IAC was the first company to use microfilm as a means of providing public libraries with periodical indices; since the microfilm was computer-output, it was easy to keep the index continuously cumulative, giving it a substantial advantage over printed indexes.
The first indexers, all of whom had MLS degrees, were hired in August 1977. They initially used IBM optical scan typewriters but in late 1978 were given personal computers, Apple Us, to perform their work. As the computers were not networked at that time, the indexers had to bring their completed work on floppy disk to another computer for transmission.
Magazine Index was introduced by IAC at the California Library Association’s fall conference in 1977, and, the first deliveries were made to libraries in spring of the following year. IAC also made Magazine Index available as an online database for use by professional searchers and corporate librarians through the commercial database vendor Dialog Information Services. Although other computerized databases were available on Dialog, Magazine Index was the first general interest database among the other highly specialized ones. Dialog, which was located in nearby Palo Alto, was not the only online vendor in the United States, but it was the leading one. The head of Dialog at the time, Roger Summit, was a personal acquaintance of Butler’s, and thus agreed to lend IAC about $250,000 in exchange for an exclusive online distribution contract.
Over the next three years, IAC introduced a new database product each year, and its indexing staff grew accordingly. In 1979 it came out with National Newspaper Index, an index featuring citations from five of the nation’s leading newspapers. In 1980 IAC introduced an index to 700 law journals known as Legal Resource Index in its online form and Current Law Index in its print form. Then in 1981 the company introduced an index to trade journals called Trade& Industry Index in its online form and Business Index in its microfilm form.
IAC soon outgrew its small Los Altos office and moved to larger quarters in nearby Menlo Park in spring 1980. Boasting a work force of 40, IAC was growing and its products were successful. However, the company was not yet profitable, as its expenses were high. The company had not received any additional large investments since the loan from Dialog, and revenues from the dwindling consulting business had ceased in 1979. However, it had always been the intention of the founders to one day sell the company.
Growth under Ziff-Davis
On June 6, 1980 IAC was acquired by Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. IAC’s name was modified to Information Access Company, and it became a division of Ziff. Although they no longer owned the company, the four founders each stayed on for awhile. In fact, Butler continued to run the company until the following year, when Ziff appointed one of its own executives, Larry Parkis, as acting president. Butler then remained with IAC in a less formal role until 1984. Kollin continued to run the indexing operations of IAC until 1982, when he left to take a position as senior vice-president at another indexing company. Spiwak stayed on in a consulting role until 1985, by which time he had turned 60 and retired. Priest remained a consultant to the systems department of IAC into the late 1990s.
Following the acquisition by Ziff, dedicated marketing, sales, and customer service departments were created at IAC. Ziff s experience in marketing and a dedicated sales force led to a boom in sales for IAC within a year. Another consequence of the sale to Ziff was that the exclusive online distribution contract with Dialog was terminated. Thus, in addition to having its index databases on Dialog, IAC added other online vendor distributors. Over the years these came to include Lexis/Nexis, Dow Jones News/Retrieval, Data-Star, and M.A.I.D.
In February 1982 Ziff sent a permanent president to IAC; Morris Goldstein assumed the duties which Butler and Parkis had been sharing. Although an outsider, Goldstein soon developed a good working relationship with the managers and staff of IAC. Although a division of Ziff, IAC retained a very separate identity, and, similarly, Goldstein became strongly identified with IAC as he oversaw the growth of company revenues and work force. In fact, IAC’s rapid growth in the 1980s necessitated a move to larger facilities in the San Francisco suburb of Belmont in 1984, and then to an even larger headquarters in nearby Foster City in 1988.
The acquisition by Ziff not only helped IAC achieve profitability but also provided capital for acquisitions. Harfax Database Publishing, Area Business Data Bank, Management Contents, and Wards Business Directories were all acquired in the 1980s and were then merged into IAC’s operations. Moreover, in 1985 Management Contents Co., acquired by Ziff in 1980, was merged into IAC. This company produced two periodical index products, which also included abstracts: Management Contents, which focused on the field of business management, and Computer Database. In 1986 production of both databases was integrated into the IAC indexing systems, when the company switched from the Apple II to a newer indexing system based on the Wang minicomputer. Management Contents and Computer Database would continue as distinct database products among IAC’s offerings, production of Management Contents was later outsourced to an offshore vendor. Computer Database was temporarily transferred to a different division of Ziff in the early 1990s to coordinate its marketing as part of suite of other computer-related resources called Computer Library.
In 1985 IAC acquired Wards, which published a directory of companies uniquely strong in private company data. IAC thus started sharing company data between periodical indexers and the company researchers. IAC continued to publish the print directory under the Wards title for a few years by itself and later, starting in 1989, jointly with reference book publisher Gale Research Inc. IAC also integrated the company directory with data from its Trade& Industry database to create the new Company Intelligence database.
Database Delivery Innovations of the 1980s
In addition to new database products, IAC also developed new ways for users to access its databases and greater content for those databases. In the early 1980s IAC developed and sold a software package—Search Helper—to help searchers of Dialog develop their search strategies off-line and thereby save connect-time charges.
People who work or study in public and academic libraries, corporations, governments, hospitals, schools, and homes rely upon Information Access Company for useful, current information in databases that are easy to access and simple to use.
IAC also became a pioneer in providing full-text access to the articles it indexed. For microfilm, in 1983 IAC developed a product called Magazine Collections, which aimed at supplementing a library’s collection of periodicals by offering the text of over 250 publications on microfilm. The index citations from then on included Magazine Collections cartridge and frame numbers, so that the user could quickly find the article on a separate dedicated microfilm Collections reader. Business Collections, offering the microfilmed texts of business and trade journals to correspond with Business Index, was subsequently added.
In online databases, IAC also begin introducing full text in 1983, when it began indexing and providing text from the PR Newswire in its new Newswire ASAP database. IAC was the first database indexing company to provide the full text of articles on Dialog. Subsequently, IAC began adding full text to selected journals in its other online databases. Including the full text involved negotiating royalty payments to the publishers, distinct from the microfilm rights, which initially were set as a 50-50 split. At that time few publishers could or would provide the electronic files of their publications, so IAC had to have all the articles retyped. For this manual task, IAC contracted out the work overseas. Within a few years the manual keying was partially replaced by scanning an optical character recognition.
In January 1985 IAC introduced a revolutionary new database delivery mechanism called InfoTrac, a turn-key computer hardware/software system for use by library patrons. Until then, databases searchable by computer were available only on expensive online services used by librarians. InfoTrac offered greater speed in searching than by microfilm. Specifically, it allowed a user to browse the thesaurus of subject headings, instantly jump to cross-references, and print out the citations, yet it required little or no user training. For InfoTrac, IAC developed its own unique search software and interface, and over the years all versions of IAC’s microfilm indexes and most of its online indexes were made available on InfoTrac.
When InfoTrac was introduced, CD-ROM technology was still in its infancy, and reliable premastering studios and duplicating services for high volumes were nonexistent. Thus, for storing the data, IAC chose an earlier form of optical media, the 12-inch videodisc or laser disc. The videodiscs, like IAC’s CD-ROMs of the 1990s, were updated on a monthly subscription basis. As with the microfilm readers, IAC owned all the equipment, leasing it to libraries and providing repair or replacement services. In 1987 IAC introduced a CD-ROM version of the InfoTrac system. Over the next two years IAC replaced the videodisc hardware with the CD-ROM systems for all of its subscribers.
At the same time, IAC began making its databases available to larger libraries in yet another format by directly leasing its databases on computer magnetic tape for the libraries to load onto their own computer systems and online public access catalogs (OPACs). By 1990 IAC was actively marketing such tape lease databases in a program named InfoTrac 2000. Rather than market to the libraries themselves, IAC marketed InfoTrac 2000 to companies that supplied OPAC software.
The availability of IAC’s databases on OPACs, in combination with the new ability to dial into a library’s catalog remotely, enabled people with computers and modems to access IAC’s databases from home for the first time. IAC also began serving the home market when, starting in 1989, it made its databases available through the consumer online service CompuServe. On CompuServe IAC offered full-text databases from the onset. IAC also developed two new databases in the late 1980s: Health Index, introduced in July 1988, and Academic Index, introduced in April 1988. In 1991 IAC began adding abstracts to most of the citations in most of its databases.
Challenges of the 1990s
Throughout most of the 1980s, IAC grew with little direct competition. This began to change, however, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Traditional print index publishers, such as H. W. Wilson, the publisher of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, began releasing versions of their indexes on CD-ROM and online formats, and even Dialog began marketing its databases on CD-ROM. At the same time new electronic publishers, such as EBSCO, emerged.
In order to offset the effects of increased competition, IAC decided to step up its marketing efforts in the corporate market. Toward that end, IAC made its biggest acquisition, purchasing its leading competitor in online business databases, Predicasts Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, in September 1991. Predicasts’ sales were estimated at $60-80 million, slightly higher than those of IAC, which the trade journal Online estimated at between $40 and $50 million.
IAC continued production of all of the former Predicasts online, CD-ROM, and print products: PROMT, F&S index, MARS (Marketing& Advertising Research Services), A/DM&T (Aerospace/Defense Markets& Technology), Newsletter Database, New Product Announcements, Forecasts, and U.S. Time Series. Under IAC, Infomat’s International Business, produced in the United Kingdom, was renamed Globalbase, and a few print products were discontinued.
Then, in an effort to place equal emphasis on the library and corporate markets, IAC created two market-oriented divisions in early 1994: Corporate Division and Library Division. Plans were also laid for a consumer division to be called the At-Home Division. Each division, headed by a general manager, had its own sales, marketing, product development, and product management staffs.
In another move aimed at strengthening its position in the corporate market, in March 1994, IAC acquired SandPoint Corp., a developer of intelligent agent software, known as Hoover, for Lotus Notes. IAC hoped to combine this technology with its database content to provide a current awareness service. Towards that end, IAC introduced an entirely new database in July 1995 called Industry Express. SandPoint’s operations were merged into the Corporate division of IAC in late 1995. However, as Hoover proved less successful than hoped for, IAC sold SandPoint to Individual Inc. in October 1996.
The emergence of the Internet as a viable means of long distance commercial data communications allowed IAC to expand its methods of delivering its databases, as well as to become a competitor of the database vendors and OPAC companies with which it had traditionally worked. In late 1993 IAC began utilizing a central computer facility shared with other Ziff companies, called Ziff Information Services (ZIS), to offer libraries 24-hour access to its databases through a telnet connection over the Internet. The service was called InfoTrac Central 2000.
IAC Under Thomson
In January 1994 Goldstein resigned from IAC to accept a position as head of ImagiNation Network. IAC’s executive vice-president and general manager, Robert Howells, was named company president. Then, in June of that year, Ziff s owners announced that they were putting all of its holdings up for sale. In December 1994 IAC was acquired by The Thomson Corporation for $465 million. Thomson, a multinational company based in Toronto, owned hundreds of periodical, print, and electronic publishing companies, in addition to a travel service. Just prior to the sale, Ziff s Computer Library operations were segmented, with Computer Database reverting back to IAC. IAC also gained another Computer Library operation, Data Sources of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which produced computer company and product directory. IAC also retained the computer center, ZIS, in Medford, Massachusetts, renamed the Information Access Center, or IACenter. Howells remained president of IAC under Thomson and assumed the additional position of chief operating officer, while Goldstein rejoined IAC as the company’s first chief executive officer.
Formerly a division of Ziff, IAC became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thomson. The company thus assumed even greater independence in its operations and market strategies. Furthermore, new opportunities opened up for strategic partnerships with other Thomson companies. In fall 1996 Goldstein left IAC to take a newly created position in Thomson with the aim of fostering the sharing of resources among affiliated Thomson companies. Another result of becoming a part of a multinational conglomerate was a new emphasis on international markets. In February 1996 IAC created an International Division, and the activities of its existing U.K. office were expanded. IAC planned to introduce its first foreign language product, a Spanish magazine index and full-text database, in 1997.
Meanwhile, the growth of the Internet’s World Wide Web meant a growing market for IAC’s nascent At-Home Division. IAC’s first Web-based service, called Cognito!, was aimed at the high school student/home market. It included Magazine Index, with text, and the indexed articles of two encyclopedias. In addition to reference books, the At-Home Division marketed other databases that were not periodical indexes. In 1994 IAC had established a partnership with Access Dynamics Inc., called the Automotive Information Center (AIC), which contained a searchable database of new car specifications; in 1996 IAC relocated the headquarters of the At-Home Division to AIC’s offices in Westborough, Massachusetts.
In 1996 IAC’s Library and Corporate Divisions also introduced web-based services. InfoTrac Searchbank, with the option of a web browser interface, replaced the InfoTrac Central 2000 service used by libraries and OP AC vendors. InSite, with flat-fee subscriptions for a single user, shared workstation, or site-licenses, was introduced as a web-based service for the corporate market.
The proliferation of the Internet and the concept of the information superhighway in the mid-1990s meant that IAC’s products and services, originally aimed exclusively at libraries, were of potential interest to a much broader spectrum of society. Greater opportunities and greater competition thus lay ahead for IAC.
IACenter Division; Library Division; Corporate Division; At-Home Division.
Principal Operating Units
Computer Library; Automotive Information Center.
Carney, Richard, “Information Access Company’s InfoTrac,” Information Technology and Libraries, June 1985, pp. 149-153.
Davis, Lisa, “Information Access Spreads the Word,” San Francisco Business Times, January 9, 1989, pp. 1 +.
Flanagan, Patrick, “Talking CD-ROM with Sean Devine of Information Access Company,” CD-ROM World, October 1993, pp. 26-27.
“IAC Announces New Licensing Program,” Information Today, November 1990, p. 56.
Lane, Patricia, “Predicasts, On the Move,” Information Today, September, 1992, p. 1.
—, “Ziff Communications Acquires Predicasts,” Information Today, October 1991, pp. 1,7.
Levison, Andrew, “Ziff-Davis: Sale of Publishing Giant Impacts Online Industry,” Online, September-October 1994, pp. 31-38.
“Magazine Index—A New Database Aimed at the Markets of the Reader’s Guide and the New York Times Information Bank—Due Online in January,” Online, January 1978, pp. 7-8.
Pemberton, Jeffrey K., “Database Interviews Morris Goldstein, President of Information Access Company,” Database, October 1989, pp. 29 +.
—, “Online Interviews Delores Meglio of Information Access Company,” Online, July 1987, pp. 17-24.
“Predicasts Sold to Ziff Communications Company,” Online, November 1991, p.8.
Quint, Barbara, “Information Access Co.,” Database Searcher, January 1992, pp. 16-17.
“Ziff-Davis Electronic Information Acquires SandPoint,” PR News-wire, March 1, 1994.
“Ziff Family Sells Information Access Company to The Thomson Corporation for $465 Million,” PR Newswire, October 31, 1994.
—Heather Behn Hedden