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Lorcan 2 min read

My former OCLC colleague Eric Hellman has become one of the more interesting bloggers in our space. A little while ago he wrote about the acquisition of Liblime by PTFS. He made a general opening comment …:

The library industry has likewise been troubled by misalignment of interests between the owners of the companies and their customers. That’s why it’s important for libraries to pay close attention to the frequent mergers and acquisitions of the companies that serve them. [PTFS to Acquire LibLime and Move to Library Systems Premier League]

And goes on to talk about the rationale for open source (primarily to avoid vendor lock-in, Eric argues) and PTFS and Liblime positions in the market.
Here, for example, he talks about aspects of the library/vendor transaction from the vendor perspective …

From the vendor’s point of view, the sales process is very expensive. Promises to customize the system to address customer peculiarities are common, and these add to the cost of system maintenance. Once the system has been sold, a proprietary system vendor has a guarantee of continuing profits from support contracts. Only the vendor has the system knowledge (and sometimes even the system access) to make even the most trivial changes. It’s in the support phase that the vendor and customer interests can become misaligned. The vendor has every incentive to do the least work at the highest price possible. The customer is locked into whatever system they have chosen. [PTFS to Acquire LibLime and Move to Library Systems Premier League]

…. and here he talks about open source ..

The recent popularity of open source library management systems is in large part a search for business models that better align the interests of vendor and customer during the support phase. If the support vendor doesn’t perform to the library’s expectations, the library can hire a new support vendor without ditching their automation system. If a library wants to add a new feature to their system, or integrate it with a system from another vendor, they can hire a developer based on qualifications rather than access to source. The important thing to the library is not so much the access to source or the cost of the license, it’s the absence of vendor lock-in. [PTFS to Acquire LibLime and Move to Library Systems Premier League]

The entry was informative and interesting. I may disagree with detail or emphasis (other factors are clearly in play in the current interest in open source for example) but – importantly – my thinking has been influenced by it.
When I finished reading it I was also struck by how unusual it is to read something like this in the sources where you might expect it, in the library ‘journalism’. In general we are not well-served by library journalism (I am thinking of what is published in our ‘trade magazines’: American Libraries, Library Journal, CILIP Update, …) when it comes to this type of ‘business’ analysis. Our discussions are poorer for it.

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