Magazine article Information Today

Free Content Options Continue to Shake Things Up

Magazine article Information Today

Free Content Options Continue to Shake Things Up

Article excerpt

The free-versus-fee debate continued as another major media player tweaked its business model. FT.com, the Internet site of The Financial Times that has charged for most of its online content in the past, announced that articles and data will now be free for users up to a total of 30 views a month. Users will then be asked to subscribe to access more material. This could prove to be a savvy compromise: Open up content for casual users and for linking from search engines, blogs, etc., while keeping subscription fees for heavy users.

Observers indicated that this is preparation for the battle with The Wall Street Journal, which is being acquired in the News Corp. purchase of Dow Jones. A News Corp. spokesperson reportedly said, "We don't want to buy the FT. News Corp. will crush it." FT.com has about 100,000 subscribers, while WSJ.com has more than 900,000.

In addition, FT announced that it is changing its relationship with corporate users of its content. Beginning in April 2008, any organization that wishes to have access to FT content will need to subscribe directly to an FT content license. At press time, many of FT's third-party distributors, including Factiva, LexisNexis, Alacra, and others, were in negotiations over the details of the new arrangement.

Digitization Update

The Boston Library Consortium, Inc. (BLC) announced a major partnership with the Open Content Alliance (OCA) to build a freely accessible library of digital materials from all 19 member institutions. The BLC said it is the first largescale consortium to embark on such a self-funded digitization project with the OCA. The BLC's digitization efforts will be based in a new facility, the Northeast Regional Scanning Center at the Boston Public Library. BLC said the books will be scanned at a cost of just 10 cents per page.

Launched in 2005, OCA represents the collaborative efforts of a group of cultural, technological, nonprofit, and governmental organizations from around the world working to build a permanent and openly available archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia content. While commercial digitization projects might be grabbing the spotlight (i.e., Google's), OCA has been quietly making progress. It now has more than 84 participating libraries and eight scanning centers in three countries scanning more than 12,000 books a month. It has already digitized more than 250,000 volumes.

New Legal Sites Launch

New legal research sites that are designed to provide a free option for consumers have been popping up lately, but the consensus of many observers is that these sites present no real challenge to the fee-based sites and that much of the aggregated content is freely available elsewhere. Of course, one consistent issue with many of the free sites is the lack of useful search capabilities. One legal information professional said that these sites are "worth exactly what they are charging." I wonder how many consumers are really clamoring for access to this content ...

Columbia Law School and the University of Colorado Law School launched a new Web site called AltLaw.org, which offers a free searchable database of federal case law. Altlaw.org provides access to about 170,000 decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts going back to the early 1990s. The public domain data on the site comes from the courts themselves.

Publicresource.org is a project spearheaded by activist Carl Malmud to create an unencumbered full-text repository of the Federal Reporter, the Federal Supplement, and the Federal Appendix. The long-term goal is to create a "full-text repository of all state and federal cases and codes." The organization said it doesn't intend to compete with commercial information providers, but it wants "to make this information available to a population that today does not have access to the decisions of our federal and state courts because they are not commercial subscribers to one of the handful of services. …

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