Alacra, known for providing a wide range of business databases to enterprise customers, has decided to open up its content to on-demand purchasing by individual business professionals and consumers. The company has just launched the beta of its new Alacra Store (http://www.alacrastore.com), an e-commerce Web site that taps into 30 of Alacra's premium content databases to provide pay-per-view access to a wide range of content from top business publishers, including CreditSights, Datamonitor, D&B, EIU, Freedonia, Leadership Directories, Snapdata International, and Thomson Financial. Available content includes company profiles and financials, credit research, economic data, market and investment research, and news. The service covers more than 45,000 global public companies, 20,000 private issuers of public debt, and 350,000 global private companies with more than $20 million in revenue or 200 employees. Some of the market research reports are available on a per-page basis—a good thing, since some of the reports range from the hundreds into the many thousands of dollars. The output is generally delivered in PDF, though the format is dependent on the publisher.
"The Alacra Store meets the needs of both business information professionals who desire a pay-per-view option and publishers who want to reach professionals looking for premium business information online," said Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra. "Many of the databases in the Store have previously only been available via subscription[,] and our plan is to continue to add dozens of new publishers over the next few months."
Searches can be performed by keyword, company name, ticker symbol, publisher, or industry criteria. Results are presented in categories (economic data, credit research, etc., and then by publisher) but can't be sorted—by price, date, etc. Visitors to the site can search freely without registering first. To purchase a report, users complete a registration form and submit their credit card information. Once paid for, reports can be downloaded instantly to the desktop and will remain available to download for 24 hours.
Alacra's content publishers seem pleased at the opportunities provided by the new Alacra Store. "The Alacra Store is a terrific concept, as it helps Leadership Directories meet the needs of the growing number of customers [who] seek on-demand access to content," said Barry Graubart, chief marketing officer for Leadership Directories. "Having our content in the Alacra Store will help us satisfy the needs of users who may not need an ongoing subscription and those outside of our core markets."
Analyst John Blossom commented quite positively about the new storefront. While he admitted it was "definitely a beta—a little rough in some of the details of navigation and needing some more robust document summaries," he felt that it "compares very favorably to services from LexisNexis and Factiva."
He said the new service should "make sense to business-oriented content purchasers aiming to pick up single reports and research." He sees it as "kind of a hybrid approach, walking ground that falls between the Hoover's and OneSource portal offerings and the Yahoo! and Google search offerings." See his commentary at http://shore.com/commentary/weblogs for details on what he specifically likes (e.g., simple searching and categorized results).
Business content searchers who are savvy enough to know what they want will likely welcome the transactional access. Users who don't clearly understand the nature of the content and the value might not greet it as eagerly. Some might also be dismayed to learn that an article from InformationWeek or Washington Technology that cost $9.95 at the Alacra Store could be read free on the Web. But, the service is really focused on selling premium reports that are not available on the open Web—not on news articles. Alacra is also working with its content providers and with Google and Yahoo! to expose the service's deep Web content to Web search engines.
Information professionals—trained searchers who offer research services to clients—weren't as enthusiastic about the new e-commerce site. One expert business researcher commented that the average end user (business professional) wouldn't understand the presentation of results or be able to evaluate the information. "Only a die-hard librarian would understand what all these various citations are to. The ‘source' attribution is meaningless to normal people." As an example, would a user understand the worth of a report on "POWDER METALLURGY - EXECUTIVE SUMMARY" from TF Market Research that listed "GLOBAL INDUSTRY ANALYSTS MARKET OVERVIEW" as the source? The price of this one, by the way, is $23,960. But, the 599-page report is available to purchase in sections (at $40 per page)—if the user can get past the sticker shock to notice the option. There's no abstract or description. Our expert added: "It's useless for anyone who's not already an info pro, and an info pro would want far more information before plopping down cold hard cash on something she only gets a citation for."
The service is still in beta, so perhaps studies of user behavior from the Web analytics will result in some changes before the service officially launches. In fact, Goldstein has now posted some comments to the AlacraBlog (http://www.alacrablog.com) that address some of the criticisms already voiced. He stated that better abstracts and/or keyword in context is the company's top priority. "We need to give users as much information as possible about what they're about to buy before they buy it. The challenge is the varying amount and types of metadata we get from the publishers. But we're working on this now. Ideally, we'd like to do ‘search inside this report.'"
Goldstein also said the company is working to let users sort results by data and price, as well as to bookmark search results pages. Concerning content, he wrote: "We plan to add another dozen or so databases by the end of [3Q] including Moody's and Fitch Ratings and [a] bunch more by the end of the year."
A privately held company founded in 1996, Alacra is headquartered in New York City. The company provides a diverse portfolio of services, with more than 100 databases along with proprietary solutions designed to help users to find, analyze, package, and present mission-critical business information. Alacra customers include more than 700 financial institutions; professional service firms; consulting, law, and accounting firms; and corporations throughout the world.