Magazine article Information Today

Quick Step March

Magazine article Information Today

Quick Step March

Article excerpt

The Online Industry is on the march. After many years drilling and dozing behind the fortress ramparts of high prices, difficult software, drab output, and niche markets, traditional database industry firms may find their battle skills a little rusty, muscles a little slack, and the smell of gunsmoke more likely to cause a croupy cough than bloodlust. Nevertheless, they were here first and they don't intend to be pushed out of the way without a struggle.

Military history teaches that the transition from a peacetime military to a wartime military always takes some time to make the necessary organizational, staff, and attitude adjustments. You will rarely find a Patton in a leadership position during peacetime--too much trouble, too much "in your face" attitude. When combat conditions arise, however, that's when you need a general with a nickname like "Old Blood and Guts." And as we look at the online industry today, we see lots of new faces peering over the tops of the tank turrets. However quickly and sharply the new faces may snap out the marching orders, the question remains, "Is that the right way to go, mon capitaine?"

Sometimes observers can approve the strategy but worry about the success of the tactics that implement it. And so, let's take a look at pricing. This year, Dow Jones News/Retrieval introduced a radical change in their pricing structure that moved almost all charges to output-only pricing. They also retained both published and unpublished flat-fee subscription arrangements with clients. But then it was the first of January and what else could one expect from Dow Jones?

By the time you read this, Dialog will have announced its first major price restructuring in memory. Dialog will substantially lower connecthour charges and sort them into six price bins, replacing the over 100 separate connecthour price quotes currently on the system. Some 75 percent of DIALOG files will have connecthour charges of $60 or under. At the same time Dialog will raise per-item output charges. Details on the new prices were unavailable at presstime.

For the first time, Dialog has published plans for calculating flat-fee annual subscriptions--the Budget Plan, covering all costs but with an undefined (at presstime) cap, and the Open Access Plan, covering only connecttime, telecommunication, and View Fee charges. The View Fee, by the way, is a $1 per Type, Display, or Print command introduced system-wide with the new standard, usage-based pricing option. Users should note that the new flat-fee options apply system-wide. The only exceptions are some twenty sponsored files outside Dialog's pricing control. Unfortunately, the hold-outs include some very important files like patent databases from Derwent. Exciting development? VERY!

"REVENUE-NEUTRAL?"

Both Dow Jones and Dialog have announced that they intend their price restructure to be "revenue-neutral." In other words, they do not intend to--how shall I put this?--gouge already bleeding professional searcher clients for more money under the guise of giving them a new wallet. However, even the most trusting must worry about the impact of new pricing structures after they hit the street. Everyone knows, though occasionally database industry professionals seem to forget, that pricing is an adversarial game. This explains Quint's Law of Usage-Based Pricing: Per-use is not ProUse. The minute you attach a charge to some element of the search process, the second the searcher understands that performance of some activity incurs painful expense, that is the moment you have set the searcher on the track of some way to avoid that charge. Professional searchers always yearn to steal the cheese without having the mousetrap snap their spines. SuperSearchers, aka R.A.T.S. (Rigorously Aggressive Trained Searchers), will always try for the cheese, later or sooner.

The strategy behind the new pricing structures is clearly aimed at end users. The flat-fee budget plans from Dow Jones aim directly at end users; Dialog's institutional flat-fee subscriptions at professional search operations like corporate libraries. …

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