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Dialog Makes Changes to Pricing Strategy, Again
by
Posted On February 3, 2003
During the week of Jan. 27, 2003, Dialog subscribers received a letter from Cynthia Murphy, senior vice president for strategic marketing at Dialog, describing pricing changes, effective Feb. 1. Most of the changes in the Dialog service are simply increases in existing fees. The full text of documents from news files are $2.95 now, instead of $2.75; the cost for Interactive Alerts has gone up 50 percent; and the "telecommunications fee" went from $13 to $14 an hour. Alerts created through DialogSelect, Dialog1, DialogPRO and the Intranet Toolkit now incur a monthly charge, just like alerts created through DialogWeb and DialogClassic. The Services Fee, which used to be billed semi-annually, is now billed monthly. And the RANK command in the full-text patent files (files 340, 348, 349, 371, 652, and 654) now incurs a charge of $.02/element RANKed.

Charges in the DataStar service include an average of 6 percent increase in connect time fees and an average of 1 percent increase in output charges; the specific changes in individual files were not indicated in the letter.

Most of these price increases, while not insignificant, can at least be planned for by searchers (although that two-cent-per-element fee for full-text patent file RANKing will come as a surprise to intellectual property researchers accustomed to using this powerful Dialog tool). However, the change that will have a significant impact to searchers is the imposition of a charge for formats 6 and 8 for 90 business files and 12 patent files.

When searchers first read this announcement, their reaction was predictable: "How can you charge us for the formats we use to simply review titles and to refine our search? You're already charging us for Connect Time or DialUnits; now we're being charged to skim the titles, too!"

As it turns out, though, most of the files included in this pricing change are not bibliographic files of articles, with the exception of Harvard Business Review, Econlit, Commerce Business Daily, and Wilson Business Abstracts. Rather, they are primarily files of directory, company financial, statistical, and patent information, and market research reports--that is, files for which at least format 8 often hasn't been free, although most of which have always had at least one free format.

However, it's still a significant change, in that it includes 72 for which there is now no free display format. That means that you get hit with a triple whammy when you review your search results to determine which records to purchase: you pay for DialUnits or Connect Time, you pay per record to display minimal information, and you pay $14 an hour for the Telecommunications Fee.

Compare that to Factiva.com and LexisNexis, both of which have pricing options that charge nothing to display bibliographic citations; Factiva.com doesn't even charge for searching.

I was curious as to Dialog's rationale for the imposition of this fee on formats that searchers have always assumed are free. Unfortunately, no representative from Dialog was allowed to speak to the media until after 9 am on Monday, Feb. 3, two days after the imposition of the charge and after presstime for this NewsBreak.

I experimented by issuing a t 1/FREE/1 command in the affected files, and found inconsistent results. In most cases, the response was "FREE is not a valid format name in file xxx." Fair enough, although that apparently means that searchers have no way of reviewing search results before paying a per-document fee.

However, when I issued a t 1/FREE/1 command in file 122, I got the results in format 8, which is not free.  And in files 553 and 753, which according to the list should be charging $.10 for format 6, the "free" format defaulted to format 6 and I was not charged for the records. In file 349, the "free" format defaulted to format 6, but I was only charged $.05, instead of the $.25 listed in the price change letter. Likewise, I found that a number of the files were not charging the amount listed in the letter. So much for predictability in pricing!

Note that you can get around the charge for company names in the company directory files. If you have a search set and you want to review the company names, use the RANK command (which does incur DialUnit costs but not per-element costs…. yet) to display the company names.  See the following example of how I searched file 100, Market Guide Company Financials, for companies assigned SIC code 4822.

File 100:Market Guide Company Financials  2003/Jan 27
       (c) 2003 Market Guide
 
      Set  Items  Description
      ---  -----  -----------
?s sc=4822
      S1      29  SC=4822
?rank s1/all/co
>>>RANK will process the first 50000 records or 50000 terms,
>>>whichever is reached first.
Started processing RANK
Completed Ranking 29 records
DIALOG RANK Results
--------------------
RANK: S1/1-29   Field: CO=  File(s): 100
(Rank fields found in 29 records -- 29 unique terms) Page 1 of 4
 
RANK No.  Items  Term
--------  -----  ----
    1        1   APPLIED DIGITAL SOLUTIONS
    2        1   CELLNET DATA SYSTEMS
    3        1   DBS INDUSTRIES, INC.
    4        1   ELECTRIC LIGHTWAVE, INC.
    5        1   ESNI, INC.
    6        1   EXACTIS.COM, INC.
    7        1   I-LINK INCORPORATED
    8        1   INFONET SERVICES CORPORAT
P =  next page      Pn = Jump to page n
P- = previous page  M =  More Options     Exit = Leave RANK
 
To view records from RANK, enter VIEW followed by RANK number,
format, and item(s) to display, e.g., VIEW 2/9/ALL.
 
Enter desired option(s) or enter RANK number(s) to save terms.
?p 


[And so on through the remaining three screens of text.] To select individual company records, type the Rank Number at the "?" prompt and then execute the saved search.

The total cost for this RANKed display of company names was $1.26 in DialUnit charges. When, instead, I TYPEd the records in format 6, it cost me $8.47 ($7.25 in TYPE costs, plus $1.22 in DialUnit charges. It may not be elegant, but it works, and at a fraction of the price.

The charge to review titles in the market research files is particularly puzzling. Consulting companies are selling their reports directly to the public--through their own sites and through aggregators, such as MarketResearch.com and MindBranch. None of these venues charge for searching or to display titles and tables of contents. For Dialog to impose a per-record charge to review search results in the market research report files seems to be contrary to trends in that particular niche.

Note that one way to help become accustomed to the new pricing is to use the SET NOTICE N feature, which notifies you whenever you issue a Type, Display, or Print command that will cost more than whatever amount you specify. I have mine set at SET NOTICE 1, so that I will be alerted whenever I am about to incur more than $1 in charges. You can set the notice for a single search session by typing SET NOTICE [whatever dollar value you want] at any prompt. If you want to have this feature invoked every time you log on, consult the directions on setting your PROFILE, in the Dialog Pocket Guide. The PROFILE feature, which stores any SET commands you want to run every time you log on, is detailed at http://support.dialog.com/searchaids/dialog/pocketguide/profile.shtml.  Note that SET NOTICE only alerts you to output charges; you are not warned if a command will incur a high DialUnit cost or per-element charges for the RANK command, for example.

It is going to be very difficult for searchers to justify the cost of searching files on Dialog that have no free output to review search results. Although Dialog has said that they want to push more of the cost of the search to the output rather than the searching portion of the session, this pricing change doesn't track with that assertion. And, talk about unpredictable… Yes, if I have my SET NOTICE set to 0, at least I'll know when I'm going to be hit with a per-document fee, but it makes it really difficult to plan for how much a search will cost.


Mary Ellen Bates is the owner of Bates Information Services and a frequent speaker and writer.

Email Mary Ellen Bates
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