Magazine article Online

Free and Not-So-Free Title Formats

Magazine article Online

Free and Not-So-Free Title Formats

Article excerpt

"Title-only" formats online are practically a sacred cow, yet BIOSIS and BRS managed to slip this change practically unnoticed past online searchers. STN announced it in its March/April newsletter, pricing BIOSIS "titles-only" at 22cts online and 27cts offline. What happened? Where is the hue and cry that arose when Chemical Abstracts did the same thing a few years ago, or when DIALOG moved to "one-minute" pricing last year?

We asked some questions, and found some answers. Here's what we learned.

In its 1991 contracts BIOSIS required all the databanks that mount the BIOSIS Previews database to pay for accesses to the database that printed titles in a "title-only" format. According to BIOSIS, they made a decision several years ago to emphasize output pricing instead of connect hour pricing. Accordingly their contracts with online services have decreased the amount to be paid per connect hour, from $45 in 1988 to $40 in 1991. At the same time the royalty payments required of the databanks for per record charges in various formats have increased. This is not the first year that BIOSIS has charged databanks for titles-only; its 1989 contracts required such payment though in the range of 5cts-6cts per title rather than the 12cts stipulated in the 1991 contract. In 1989 ESA-IRS was the only system to pass along the titles-only charge; they were absorbed by the other systems, including BRS.

Recognizing the need for some kind of free format, in 1990 BIOSIS made titles-only free in its contracts with the databanks, and increased the hit charges on other formats instead. Since the databanks continued to report titles-only retrievals to BIOSIS for 1990, they determined they lost a "bundle of money - in the six figures" from the heavy use of free titles. (At 6cts per title it would take 1,666,666 titles-only prints to earn, or lose, $100,000!) BIOSIS' response to the drain was to reinstate the charge for titles in the 1991 contract. Similar contracts are in effect for BioBusiness; Zoological Abstracts allows free formats for all but bibliographic citations.


BIOSIS said they found they were losing too much revenue to searchers who printed out many titles, and then printed only selected records, or turned to the print version for reference. To stem those losses, they felt the only answer was to charge for "titlesonly," since the titles were proving to be of some intrinsic value. This is the same argument that CA put forth when it changed its pricing format in 1 987. 1 find it difficult to think that searchers would have printed significantly more titles-only in 1990 than they did in 1 989, since the format was free to them both years. The difference was that BIOSIS was being paid for titles that were printed in 1989, by the databanks who somehow adjusted their charges to cover the expense.

Searchers would argue, and have, that the "titles-only" format is a valuable search tool, and essential to conducting a search and narrowing it to desired records. Many searchers have been taught by database producers and online services that an appropriate interactive method of searching is to identify a set, print selected titles, and possibly indexing, and then further narrow your strategy. Alternatively, many experienced searchers print quantities of titles, scan them online or log off temporarily, then request selected items in fuller formats. (An article in this issue about the KEEP command on DIALOG advocates a heavy use of the titles-only format for record selection.) Traditionally pricing has supported and encouraged these strategies, relieving searchers from having to buy expensive information virtually sight unseen as would be the case if they could not peruse titles free of charge. Imagine ordering bananas or strawberries in sealed boxes at the grocery store without being able to view them first, or buying clothes by item numbers only instead of seeing them in catalogs or trying them on? …

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