Magazine article Information Today

CD/DVD Databases for the Holidays

Magazine article Information Today

CD/DVD Databases for the Holidays

Article excerpt

Here are several gift suggestions for the computer guru on your list

Every December in this column, I write about CD-ROM and DVD-ROM databases that are particularly appropriate as gifts for family members. In the past, I have had to struggle with what to choose because there were so many new products, or because the products were new to so many people. This year I didn't struggle much, for two reasons.

By now, probably every reader has the most essential CD-ROM and maybe even DVD-ROM databases; as a result, there are far fewer "must-buy" databases. Secondly, many traditional reference and "edutainment" CD-ROM and DVD-ROM databases, or their quasi-equivalents, are now available on the Web free of charge. This will dramatically change the landscape for many of the players in the home and school CD/DVD education and information resources arenas.

The Britannica Example

Nothing illustrates this better than the late October news that Encyclopaedia Britannica is to be made available free of charge on the Web. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, except for the fact that hardly anyone could try out this fantastic freebie because the system crashed under the enormous traffic. [Editor's Note: As of mid-November, the http://www.britannica.com site is up and operational, although delays can be expected until server upgrades are complete.] The announcement may have quite an impact on the future of the home-oriented CD/DVD-ROM databases, as well as fee-based Web databases. The reaction to Britannica's offer tells us a lot about consumer behavior without expensive marketing studies.

The Britannica case--beyond its obvious worldwide name recognition--is also very interesting from other aspects. Britannica Online has been available for almost 3 years at an ever-decreasing, affordable subscription rate for universities and home users. I have always maintained that Britannica Online's yearly subscription cost (less than $1 a student per year) for any college or university is cheaper and brings more results than the least expensive of the studies and/or initiatives to improve the scholarly achievements of undergraduate students.

Of course, I'm not an education specialist, and my common-sense arguments about Britannica's wealth of information coupled with its utterly convenient access fell on deaf ears, as I learned after an informal and statistically nonrepresentative survey of a few college libraries. Probably the same was true about the home market. There may not have been enough families who were willing to spend the equivalent of a single matinee ticket each month for Britannica Online's monthly subscription fee.

I have not yet received the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions of Britannica 2000, nor have I heard about any proposed cancellation plans for them. The reaction of the public indicated that if the $5 monthly fee is removed the interest in Britannica would surge. Would it cannibalize the upcoming optical disc versions? Certainly, but the more interesting question is: What will be the impact on the competition?

Life After Free Britannica?

Each of Britannica's competitors has a somewhat different target audience, at least in the school market. For the home market the differences are not that clear simply because of the mixture of potential users in terms of age, education levels, and interests. Microsoft seems to be the most prepared to keep up with Britannica's online competition, and is destined to get by far the largest slice of the home CD/DVD-ROM database market.

Microsoft was the first to introduce the Reference Suite concept a few years ago to enhance the information offered by its core product, the Encarta encyclopedia. Competitors hectically followed suit (pun intended), and it showed in the results. None of the competing reference suites were really suites, let alone sweet ones. As I wrote in a March/April 1999 article in Information Today, Inc. …

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