Wednesday, September 24, 2014


We remember well the lucrative STM journals market and the value added role the subscription agents had carved out consolidating subscriptions across thousands of institutions and publishers. It was a classic one stop shop and rewarding for all parties. The likes of Swets and Ebsco dominated and their position looked increasingly secure. Then came the shift to digital and new players who also offered digital consolidation, publishers who wanted to increasingly deal direct and institutions who discovered the power of buying consortia. The market shifted and that was without the ever growing debate on open access and the commercial model that underpinned the market.

This week Swets filed for bankrupcy with its parent company, Swets & Zeitlinger Group B V, being granted preliminary bankruptcy protection by an Amsterdam court and its payment obligations to creditors frozen and JLM Groenewegen appointed as liquidator. The reason for the fall from grace has much to do with the decline in revenues, squeeze on margin and their inability to service their financial covenants. In good times many borrow and to expand, but in bad times the cost of servicing that debt can cause issues and their 2013 Annual report clearly shows many of the warning signs of a company that was still earning, but not at the rate it needed to. Most companies at that stage would take measures to ensure covenants were not breached, or refinance to change their terms. We don’t know what was undertaken, but today that is immaterial as they are bankrupt.

Swets were founded by Adriaan Swets & Heinrich Zeitlinger in 1901. In 2007 Swets acquired by a Dutch investment firm, Gilde and went to open offices in India, New Zealand, Finland, Austria & Switzerland, China and acquire Boekhandel E. Frencken BV. In 2010 they broadened their offer with an e-book catalog and buying options, supplying over 1 million e-books in 2011. In 2011 they acquired the publisher communication services company Accucoms, They had some 572 employees has offices in 20 countries handling subscription services for some 8,000 customers and 800,000 subscriptions in some 160 countries. (see

How much publishers have lost is not clear, neither is the position of digital services to institutions, but Swets demise will have a big impact on those who relied on that consolidation and alternatives may be around, but as they say. ‘once bite, twice shy.’ Some major publishers have already issued notices some stating that they have not received any 2015 subscription payments for 2015 from Swets and inferring that there may well be money in the pipeline.

The STM Journal market is essential for the dissemination of research and information and has long been a moral and commercial battleground, but it is changing and being challenged not just by academics and institutions who want a better deal, but also by what are often the primary funders – governments. 

Update from The Bookseller 10th Oct 2014: Publishers will soak up the costs...

Swets UK go into Administration : The Bookseller 14/10/14 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for stealing a Swets image. Please credit it or remove it from your blog.

Martyn Daniels said...

love to credit it but it is not attributed fully in Google images where it was taken from. Also this blog clearly is a non commercial site so to be accused in such a manner by someone who wishes to remain 'Anonymous' is quite interesting. So if the image belongs to the liquidator we apologise and give due credit. If it belongs to someone else well let us know who we should credit.