Magazine article Information Today

More Practices We'd like to See Less

Magazine article Information Today

More Practices We'd like to See Less

Article excerpt

Barbara Quint is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.'s Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals and a longtime online searcher Her e-mail address is

Many vendors continue to 'ambush' the info pros--their most loyal customers

This month, again, we will try to identify marketing practices vendors use that not only do not engender good, lasting relations with the information professional community, but actually might threaten that community. In other words, we will once again look at vendor behavior that could get a librarian fired or make an information broker lose a client. Unfortunately, this won't be a short column. More than one current practice meets the definition of "user-hostile," at least to the information professional community.


Many moons ago in another life, a supervisor of mine uttered these words of managerial wisdom, "Bosses don't like surprises." Even happy surprises can draw a furrowed brow. For example, a manager who finds that her staff has completed a new project early may be glad that it's completed, but worry whether the sense of surprise could indicate consistent low estimates and under-assignment of staff energies. But most surprises are not happy ones, it seems.

Last year the searcher community went ballistic over the sudden launch of Dialog's DialUnit pricing. The initial rules implementing the new pricing measures added, on average, one-third to the price of most searches. Fending off the furor of negative reactions, Dialog realigned the pricing policies to a generally revenue-neutral base. In fact, some analyses indicated a small drop in average search costs. Probably as much negative reaction stemmed from the surprise and confusion of the sudden switch. Even Dialog staff could not explain the algorithm changes at first. Without advance warning from an alert, Net-savvy online trade press and from listservs, most searchers would have found out about the new pricing policy the morning it went into effect; many did anyway.

Though a colorful example of negative surprises, the DialUnit controversy is certainly not the only example of such practices. In fact, leaping out of bushes at unsuspecting customers remains a regular practice for many traditional information industry vendors when it comes to renewing subscription or licensing contracts. Vendors offer institutions attractive, low-ball pricing for the first year of their enterprise-wide contract leases. Then, throughout the year, they silently tally up the "actual costs" of searching. New enterprise end-user searchers usually lack much systems training and never even hear the meter ticking under prepaid subscription access.

The tally uses the old per-usage pricing set for a market comprising experienced, efficient professional searchers. Then, when renewal time comes round and end users have grown fond of or even addicted to full access, the real price tag for unfettered online searching appears as a price quote for renewal.

"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Most information professionals have learned from their own experience or the shared experience of others to watch out for this practice. They will insist on getting regular postings of those "actual cost require vendors to pre-define their renewal pricing policies, or demand multi-year contracts that maintain low costs. So, the practice no longer poses the, same danger or the same opportunity now that customers have wised up.

In the long run, however, the real danger threatens vendors who have lost the trust of their customers. Customers can do a lot of grousing about a vendor and still trust them. They can argue vigorously about prices and value and still believe that the vendor is friendly. But when the day comes that customers no longer believe that a vendor is "an honest broker," when customers think that only constant vigilance will keep a vendor from picking their pockets, that's a sad day for the vendor. …

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