Magazine article Online

The Online Bottom Line: Changes in CompuServe's Pricing Scheme - Surprise, Surprice

Magazine article Online

The Online Bottom Line: Changes in CompuServe's Pricing Scheme - Surprise, Surprice

Article excerpt

The pricing schemes of online consumer services change more often than prime ministers in Japan. Despite its triviality, when CompuServe changed its pricing structure in September, it did make news. It was reported in every magazine I read as price slashing and good news for customers. On the surface the new price scheme may seem laudable, but when I received my credit card statement after the first month under it, I was surprised with a significantly increased "surprice" on my usual bill.

UNLIMITED USE OF DANDY DATABASES

The former pricing was rather simple. You paid a monthly fee of $9.95. For this amount you had unlimited access to more than 100 databases on CompuServe, and had--somewhat limited--email privileges. These were known as Basic Services. Many other CompuServe resources, like bulletin boards, and vendor and user forums were priced at an hourly rate of $4.80 (or $9.60 for a time, if you used higher speed modems). These were the Extended Services. Some databases had an additional surcharge, such as CNN Online and AP Sports Wire, and were the Premium Services. I rarely used the Extended or Premium Services, but I indulged freely in the Basic Services.

The Basic Services included many valuable sources for $9.95 a month. I am a frequent traveler, and make a hobby of finding the best price, routing, and hotels for my trips. I often used the EAASY SABRE and Worldspan Travelshopper airline and hotel reservation, schedule, and fare databases. My relaxation was browsing around the All Music Guide and All Movie Guide databases. It was easy to track down a favorite song on an album I have not heard for 20 years or a movie Sir Anthony Hopkins mentioned in his interview with Larry King after the premiere of Nixon. For new movies, I used to check Ebert's movie reviews--all without the taxi-meter clicking.

Regularly, I have shown my students some interesting CompuServe sources not available through DIALOG, DataStar, OCLC, and LEXIS-NEXIS. I downloaded nifty utilities and other shareware programs from various forums, and since the spring of 1995, I used the free three hours per month of Internet/World Wide Web access when my regular Internet access provider was excruciatingly slow.

I used the Basic Services extensively, averaging about 35-40 hours per month, and I really got my bang for the buck (well, actually, for my ten bucks).

GOODBYE, BASIC SERVICES

Then came the surprise, and the bad news that did not travel fast enough to change my searching habits in time to avoid its effect on my credit card bill.

CompuServe changed its pricing policy in a way that may negatively affect many users' wallets. Gone are the Basic Services. The same monthly fee of $9.95 now covers five hours of use (really about $2 per hour), and you can access most CompuServe sources, not just the old Basic Services. Beyond the five hours, the hourly rate is $2.90 (except for Premium databases that still have an extra charge).

While this change may be good news for users who spent most of their time on the Extended Services that used to cost $4.80 per hour, it easily quadrupled the bills for those of us who used the Basic Services extensively (eight to ten hours per week).

JUMPING SHIP TO THE INTERNET

My first bill was motivation to seek out text-only (Lynx) and graphical (World Wide Web) alternatives for my favorite sources--ones I could find free on the Internet.

That is, these alternatives are absolutely free for the millions of users who are lucky to be students, faculty, and staff members of most universities and colleges, or employees of companies that provide Internet access. …

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