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Publisher to put science journals online

German science publisher Springer Science + Business Media will start in January to put all back issues of its scientific journals on the Internet, the company said on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

German science publisher Springer Science + Business Media will start in January to put all back issues of its 1,250 scientific journals on the Internet, some of which date back to 1886, it said on Wednesday.

Chief Executive Deerk Hank told Reuters in an interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair that he was spending $18 million to produce online versions of Springer’s journals, which include articles by Albert Einstein on the theory of relativity.

Making content available online is a key battleground among scientific publishers including market leader Reed Elsevier, No. 2 Springer, and Wolters Kluwer as the Internet and tightening library budgets transform the industry.

Hank said the project was the first he started when private equity investors Cinven and Candover, Springer’s owners, poached him this year from Reed Elsevier to take the helm at Springer — which Hank says could come to the stock market in 2007 or earlier.

“It’s not a highly profitable project, but we are proud that we are doing it,” Hank said about the digital back issues. “It was also a message to our employees, to show them that Springer is a publisher and will remain a publisher.”

Springer is now making one million digital pages a day from journals such as its oldest — “European Food Research and Technology,” founded in 1886 under the then German name “Zeitschrift fuer Lebensmittel-Untersuchung und -Forschung.”

Getting ahead with technology
Springer’s project is part of attempts to regain some ground Reed Elsevier has made in electronic publishing of scientific journals with its ScienceDirect software that makes it easy for scientists to access research publications.

“ScienceDirect has given Reed Elsevier significant first-mover advantage relative to their peers,” said Simon Mays-Smith, analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. “Springer’s problem is that they don’t have those software tools.”

“The reason they are proud of the digital back issues is that libraries are buying it because they want to have all that content online,” he said. “But this is not going to solve their problem, and time is running out.”

Cinven and Candover created Springer out of the two publishers they bought in as many years — former Bertelsmann unit BertelsmannSpringer and Dutch Kluwer Academic Publishing --and Hank said he told them they would have to invest in the business if they wanted to sell it later.

“There was some skepticism among the staff what it would mean when a financial investor takes over,” Hank said. “But before I started, we agreed that I could spend money there, after not much had happened under the former owners.”

“They will only be able to sell it when it is a healthy publisher.”

Hank said Springer had put a cost-cutting program behind it in which they reduced spending by 50-60 million euros ($62 - $74 million) following the merger and was now on a growth path again, increasing revenues by 5 percent this year.

Hank said the group was on track for a stock market debut no later than 2007, which he said was still the most likely exit option for Cinven and Candover.

“If we were on the stock market later than 2007, that would either mean we didn’t work properly or the stock market was in a really bad shape,” he said. “If it happened a few months earlier, we could only say, ’Well, that’s great!”