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Dealing With the New Dialog Pricing: An Emergency Toolkit
by
Posted On June 22, 1998

(Editor's Note: This NewsBreak article is a synopsis of upcoming Searcher magazine coverage of Dialog's new pricing, distilling the major points and sources from a series of articles scheduled for the July/August 1998 issue. When published, a full version of the reports will also appear as one of the full-text Web selections for that issue of Searcher here at the Information Today, Inc. Web site www.infotoday.com/searcher.)

Part 1: Questions and Answers about DialUnits

Dialog's senior director of marketing and communications, Sharyn Fitzpatrick, developed a series of responses to concerns expressed by customers over the new pricing. She has published the FAQ sheet on the Dialog Web site (http://library.dialog.com/pricing/pricing_faqs.html). Check it out for yourself.

Part 2: "Some 'Rules of the Road' When Traveling Through CPU Territory"

by Lys Chuck, senior partner, CQ&A (msanyway@ix.netcom.com) (Note: The pricing of searches based on system resources is something that lies outside the experience of most of today's searchers. So, some of us old timers got together and dredged up memories of what it was like in the "bad old days" trying to dodge "CPU-type" pricing charges. ...bq)

This piece provides a few pointers from the pros, among them Robert Jack (consultant); Doris Helfer (sciences librarian, CSU/Northridge); Aggi Raeder (Searcher Emeritus); Barbara Quint (editor, Searcher magazine); and a number of past and present Dialog users who requested anonymity. Remembering CPU (computer performance unit) pricing appears to be on par with remembering Eisenhower. No one will admit to being that old. Among the pointers:

1) Plan your search strategy in advance and write it down, with as many backup strategies as you can think of.

2) Search all the databases you will need together.

3) Use DialIndex to find your best chances for success. The system charges $1.75 a DialUnit for DialIndex (File 411), as well as Dialog Company Name Finder (File 416), Journal Name Finder (File 414), and Product Name Finder (File 413). Nevertheless, it's cheaper than most full files for crafting your custom list of OneSearch sources.

4) Don't be too redundant. The Stupidity Tax applies if you forget and move a search strategy that needed the term in searching one set of files, but doesn't in another.

5) On the other hand, try to avoid ambiguity. Try to search for the most specifically used but also most commonly used words that identify your actual subject, or you'll end up paying to have the system retrieve lots of irrelevant documents.

6) Use EXPAND instead of truncation whenever possible. If you have to truncate, truncate carefully.

7) Use only known variations--"tumor" or "tumour"--and don't worry about misspellings or weird possibilities.

8) Don't use LIMIT commands unless you absolutely have to.

9) "Stack" your sets. Put as much of your main theme into the first set as you can, and as much of your secondary theme into the second set. Keep the number of sets you work with to a minimum by using the old "S" or "Select" command, not the "SS" or "Superselect" command.

9a) As a corollary, do proximity searches first to get smaller sets.

9b) Mix Boolean operators in a single set--very carefully!

9c) Use the NOT operators to get even smaller sets.

10) Run searches first in a database with low CPU charges, then save the ones that work and use them to search the databases with higher CPU charges.

Part 3: "Blood in the Water"

The controversy swirling around Dialog's new pricing inevitably has drawn the interest of its competitors. When we interviewed a LEXIS-NEXIS executive about reported price increases on their system, he replied, "Not now, we're not, for sure!" Within days of the Dialog announcement, we received comments from another aggressive industry leader: Tim Andrews, vice president in charge of Dow Jones Interactive. Over the years, Dow Jones has experimented with almost every imaginable pricing option, but they've settled down to output-dominated pricing at the retail or low-use level, combined with subscriptions for large accounts. If Dialog's competitors see this controversy as an opportunity, searchers negotiating the best deals possible for their operations could find it timely and profitable to re-check their comparison shopping research.

Part 4: "New Electronic Invoices from Dialog"

by Aggi Raeder, consultant (aggi@netcom.com), and Laura Sines, computer applications specialist

(Note: As if major pricing changes weren't enough, the inauguration of all-electronic invoicing by Dialog announced much earlier in the year coincided with the announcement of the new pricing structure. Searchers using their Dialog bills to calculate budgets for subscription access will have electronic data with which to work, assuming they are comfortable with spreadsheets. However, the bills may omit data that some searchers find useful, or even critical. ...bq)

Starting with the April 1998 searches, the only Dialog invoice you received by mail was the invoice statement and summary. If relevant to your account, it might also have included the user number summary, multi-site discount by account fee, account management report flat fee, and account management report by file. To receive a fuller invoice by e-mail, you should e-mail a request to invoice@dialog.com along with your Dialog bill-to number, your organization name, your name, and the designated e-mail box to receive the e-mailed reports. (For a detailed explanation, check http://library.dialog.com/invoice. This site also carries a downloadable file that will help you print your e-mail invoices.) Large users with billing information that exceeds 900 K in a month will get multiple files, which the Excel macro that Dialog supplies to produce printed reports can reassemble.

The e-mail invoice you receive each month will carry your monthly search expenditures by database as a tab-delimited ASCII file ready for importing into an Excel spreadsheet. You will need Microsoft Excel to run the print macro available for downloading from the Dialog Web site. You can import the text file of monthly billing data into other spreadsheet programs, but the print macro will only work on the Excel spreadsheet program.

You will no longer receive the session detail report with search transactions and charges listed in chronological order. For those Dialog customers accustomed to reviewing their searches and verifying their online, end-of-session bills against a daily calendar of charges off a Dialog invoice, you're out of luck. Dialog says that any customers absolutely requiring the session detail report showing searches by day and hour should contact their Dialog representative to ask to receive this. Even if Dialog does agree to send the session detail, however, they will not e-mail the detailed data. Search managers must instruct their searchers to keep careful, complete billing records at the time of the search, if they don't already. A list of dates, client names, and files searched will no longer suffice for an end-of-month reconciliation.

Since the e-mailed invoices have the same name each month (usernumber.txt), you must remember to rename each month's file after printing it. Otherwise the new incoming invoice file, having the same name (usernumber.txt), may write over last month's data. In a future version of Dialog's print macro they plan to implement a feature that will allow saving the invoice data as a named worksheet along with the reports. Any recipient of the file can open the worksheet and also view the pre-run reports.

Part 5: "Dialog Subscription Plans"

Dialog offers two levels of flat-fee subscription plans for "unlimited" access: the "Premier Platinum" and "Premier Gold" contracts. Apparently the Dialog Premier Platinum contract offers access to all databases, while the Dialog Premier Gold contract omits some chemical, patent, pharmaceutical, and Dun and Bradstreet files. Gold contract customers can still use the omitted files (unless blocked by subscriber requirements), but when they do, they revert to transactional, DialUnit-plus pricing.

The subscription contract covers most major cost elements--telecommunications, connect- time (DataStar), Dialog search and retrieve stages, Dialog Alerts and print charges, e-mail, hit charges, and Dialog and DataStar ERA (Electronic Redistribution and Archiving) fees, as well as documentation, training, and software. It does not include taxes, other products and services, or other provisions.

Gossip from the street indicates that estimated prices offered by Dialog representatives can run from 15 percent to 50 percent above the last year of usage, averaged out into 12 monthly charges, with the mark-ups generally running at 20 percent or less.

Clauses within the "Premier Gold" and "Premier Platinum" may give some searchers pause. The only way to back out of a contract is to give 90 days written notice before the end of the month. If you do, then you must pay Dialog 75 percent of the amount remaining on the rest of the annual contract within 30 days from termination. In contrast, Dialog may terminate contracts by giving "ten (10) days prior written notice." Contracts roll over to the next year automatically unless the customer notifies Dialog, either "by giving written notice on or before the later of ninety (90) days prior to the end of the Term of the Rider or forty-five (45) days after receiving notice of the revised Monthly Payment and Percentage Discount."

Also, in a rather ominous tone, Dialog maintains the right to renegotiate if the search usage exceeds twice the monthly payment in any single month during the contract, or if the contract-to-date usage at current price list rates exceeds twice the contract-to-date payments at any time during the contract period. Searchers still unsure as to how the new DialUnit prices will work out in practice may want to wait until they gain some billing experience before committing to such a long-term arrangement.

In any case, if you do choose to join the Platinum or Gold crowd, tattoo the last date for termination before the rollover to your forehead! One day off and there goes your annual search budget!

Part 6: "Dialog Waives $75 Minimum for AIIP Members"

The Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) (http://www.aiip.org) has worked out an agreement with Dialog Corporation to extend its longstanding elimination of monthly minimums to the new $75 a month fee imposed in June. The waiver extends to both regular and associate members of AIIP.

Associate members, defined as "any individual who supports the objectives of AIIP and accepts its code of ethics," will receive the same privilege but on a probationary status. The privilege is not "assignable," according to Mark Goldstein, AIIP's Interindustry Liaison Committee Chair. Any use of the exempt passwords for other than information brokerage business could result in termination of membership.

Regular membership in AIIP costs $175 a year; associate membership $95. The Association has posted its full membership qualifications on its Web site (http://www.aiip.org/mem_qual.html).

(Note: For more on this right now, here on the NewsBreaks site, see the 6/8/98 NewsBreak story "Dialog Waives $75 Monthly Minimum for Information Brokers.")

Part 7: "Rustling the Round-Up"

To eliminate the impact of the rounding up in a quick search of a single expensive file, just add a cheap, irrelevant file into a OneSearch array. In OneSearch pricing, Dialog apportions fractional DialUnits across the files used with a general round-up at the end. A simple search of Investext (File 545) that would cost $6.20 for a single Format 2 listing ($5.75 for a full DialUnit plus 45 cents display charge) drops to $2.49 when you combine Investext with a free file like the Dialog BlueSheets (File 415).

In most cases, the addition of the inexpensive files will not change the searching, particularly in files with strong field structure like D&B's. If searchers have reason to worry that they will retrieve false drops from the cheap or free file, they can use the "FROM filenumber" at the end of most major commands to restrict searching to the file you really want to use, e.g. "Expand from...", "SS from...", "Type from...".

Part 8: "A Lone Assenter"

One veteran searcher reported that she has discovered some searches that are cheaper under the new Dialog pricing. She uses OneSearch for selected business files, limiting the collection to Current files only, then does a general search for marketing concepts. The admittedly "fuzzy" search tends to produce lots of hits that the searcher must review. She reads lots of titles, sometimes supplementing them with KWIC or descriptor formats, before selecting specific titles for full-text display. Records selected for final printing go into a Set 0 using the Keep command.

The new pricing has knocked as much as $50 off her earlier experience with Dialog doing this kind of searching. Previously this kind of time-consuming search fell under rates ranging from $90 to $200 a connect-hour. Now she pays nothing for the time itself. It works like the style of searching that works well with LEXIS-NEXIS, though she points out the advantage of using the sets that Dialog's software produces to refine and recast a search.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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