Magazine article Information Today

Heads Up!

Magazine article Information Today

Heads Up!

Article excerpt

Isn't it a lovely day? Do the birds not sing sweetly in the trees? Does the cool zephyr breeze of sunrise not kiss awake tousled sleepyheads?

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

What's that awful racket? It's not the voice of the turtledove, but the spiro sound of the silent majority. Instead of the roar of growing clienteles, the online industry wakes to the keening wind of lost profit whistling over a wasteland of absent customers. Look around you. What do you NOT see? lbe heads of end users.

Excuses for the database industry's failure to attract end-user customers in the millions have begun to sink out of sight too. Let's take them one by one. An earlier column ["The Big Lie"] eliminated, I hope, the conspiracy theory of wicked professional searches hiding the light of online databases under a bushel of self-interest job protection. The Hix-from-the-Stix theory that end users were just a-skeered of them dang computie-boxes has mercifully been buried under an ocean of computer sales statistics.

No one can say after looking at Internet growth that people are afraid of wrestling with awkward and difficult electronic connections and spotty, hard-to-find data collections. Prodigy's jump to the top of the consumer information utility chart with 1,750,000+ users in just a few years eliminates the notion that Freebie-only image of end users. End users may be cheap but they are real consumer purchasers. Full-text databases disprove the End-Users-as-Aliens or "Just Not Our Sort" defense. Right now, most major online search services carry single full-text titles that each - in print - have more subscribers than the cumulative user base of the entire search service. Supermarket search services that count their active password users in the 500,000 range carry magazines that have 1,000,000 or more subscribers. it's not the content that is at fault, but the niarketing, packaging, and pricing.

Now you expect nic to nag the industry - One More Time - about designing effective end-user products at reasonable end-user prices. Well, not this time. Instead, I have come to warn the industry that its failure to design polite, well-mannered, come-when-you-whistle, ATTRACTIVELY PRICED products may threaten its existing market - the Professional Searcher.

Remember, life is a moving target. While the Internet, Prodigy, CompuServe, America Online, faxback data services, and other burgeoning end-user phenomena have opened up new markets to new vendors, they may have also opened the eyes of professional searchers to opportunities awaiting them outside traditional channels. Why pay an arm and/or a leg to Mead's Lexis or Westlaw for a copy of a current Supreme Court opinion when Cleveland FreeNet or other public bulletin board services in the Public Telecomputing Network (PTN) will provide the same opinion with the same immediacy in ASCII or Postscript format for next to nothing? Why pay fingers and toes for access to Commerce Business Daily (CBD) on commercial search services charging over $1.00 a minute plus telecommunications, plus hit display charges when the Air Force Small Business Builetin Board on GEnie has the entire CBD online with the same currency at a fraction of the cost, courtesy of a loading effort by the Air Force Small Business Office?

Quint's Law of End-User Pricing

(DRAFT)

What kind of cost differences are we looking at? Frightening harbingers of tough times ahead for the commercial database industry, certainly when it comes to public domain data and even for some commercial sources, such as newspapers charging $10.00 a MONTH for faxback services. How frightening? Suffice it to say that there is a "Quint's Law of End-User Pricing" in draft - not yet voted upon and ratified but definitely in committee - that states:

What traditional database services charge for telecommunication alone will buy telecommunication AND THE DATA on end-user services carrying traditional databases - although usually in an untraditional mode. …

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