Magazine article Online

Watching Your Online Bottom Line

Magazine article Online

Watching Your Online Bottom Line

Article excerpt

It is human nature to return again and again to a restaurant or pub we like, ignoring the fact that the competition might serve up better steaks, colder beer, and better coffee--for less money. But as in the movie, Grumpier Old Men, even regulars may change their habits for money or love. Online searchers should also sit up and notice what is on the menu at newly opened or renovated services, and at what price.

Loyalty is one of my few virtues, but not when it comes to advising searchers about databases and online services. I have been a DIALOG regular for almost 20 years, and have learned to appreciate many of its nice features. But just because DIALOG has a prime spot on the agenda of every library school, it would be negligent to not review the attractive prices (and features) of many new services.

Part of my primary job as and educator is to use four or five different online systems regularly. While library schools are offered free time on most systems and databases, we also have to educate students about the real-life implications of price differences. I advocate the butterfly system--fluttering to where you get the most for your money.

Learning a new system can be expensive. The cost is not in the direct expense of training and documentation, but in the less efficient searches you do as you learn. However, there are situations when the long-term advantage is worth the short-term investment if it allows switching to another host for better prices or services.


OCLC is an old-timer in online technical services, but a relative newcomer to online reference services. The growing EPIC collection might sometimes justify jumping the DIALOG ship for one or two databases you use regularly--say more than 50 to 60 hours per year. I would not recommend this kind of switch when the price differential is minimal.

The Dissertation Abstracts hourly rate is $60 on DIALOG and $50 on EPIC, but unless you are a heavy user, the potential savings is not significant. Neither would I bother for occasional use of AGRICOLA--$30 on DIALOG and $20 on EPIC. However, in the case of Economic Literature Index (Econ it) the price difference is remarkable. DIALOG charges $60 per hour for connect time, while OCLC only $30.

Also compare output charges. Dissertation Abstracts' output is $1 on DIALOG and $.75 on EPIC. In the case of Econlit, DIALOG charges $.50, EPIC $.75, but for most users even the higher output charge would not offset the 50 percent connect-time savings on EPIC.

The pattern is not consistent. Actually, it is just the opposite for Microcomputer Abstracts. …

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