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DialogPRO Brings Flat-Fee Subscriptions to Low-End Small-Business Market
by
Posted On February 25, 2002
Dialog (http://www.dialog.com) has inaugurated a product line targeted at small businesses. The DialogPRO product—PRO stands for "predictable research online"—offers unlimited usage of a narrow, subject-focused array of files (called "content channels") for a fixed monthly fee. The first two channels available for DialogPRO cover Advertising/Marketing and News.

The News channel has two sub-tiers, Primary and Plus, with higher pricing for the Plus line. All DialogPRO users also have access to a pay-per-view option that reaches 20 more business information files—all are high-priced by Web-user standards. At first glance, the number of files included in the services seemed low, particularly in the News channel, where the only U.S. newspaper carried full text is a 90-day run of The New York Times. Most sources came from other Thomson subsidiaries, specifically Gale Group.

In announcing the service, Roy M. Martin Jr., president and CEO of Dialog, stated: "We are extending our reach into the small-business sector. With DialogPRO, we're taking the expertise we've built over the years and customizing it to meet the needs of small-business owners and managers. In virtually every market we serve around the world, small businesses are powerful catalysts for economic growth. Business intelligence, used creatively, can foster their success. DialogPRO, with its fixed monthly subscription fees and unlimited use, will help small businesses level the competitive playing field. We developed DialogPRO because we believe it is a service that will truly make a difference for small businesses. It's time."

As the service expands throughout the year, Dialog plans to launch new content channels focused on health and wellness, energy, defense, biotech, competitive intelligence, and intellectual property. Some of the new channels will have up to three pricing tiers: Primary, Plus, and Premier. Pricing for multiple users offers small discounts. For example, DialogPRO Advertising customers pay $215 per user for one or two users, $195 per user for three to 10, and $180 per user for 11 to 25. Under the two-tier pricing for the News service, the Primary package costs $60 each for one or two users, $55 each for three to 10, and $50 each for 11 to 25; the Plus package jumps those figures to $90, $80, and $75 respectively. Certain restrictions, based on client revenue size, may also apply.

Each content channel is designed to offer simple, fill-in-the-blank searching. Users select a category of interest and then enter terms into dialog boxes.

The DialogPRO News service is designed to track industry trends, competitors, suppliers and partners, and monitor regulatory and governmental actions. Sources for the Primary tier are Financial Times Fulltext, Global Reporter, and 90 days of The New York Times. The Plus tier adds Business & Industry from Responsive Database Services (owned by Dialog) and five files from Thomson subsidiary Gale Group (Health & Wellness Database, Magazine Database, Newswire ASAP, PROMT, and Trade & Industry Database).

The DialogPRO Advertising channel focuses on marketing techniques, advertising campaigns, brand ownership, and trademarks and other intellectual property issues. Source access is broken down by category of interest. The Advertising News section taps Business & Industry, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times 90 days, Periodical Abstracts PlusText, and Gale Group's PROMT, Trade & Industry, and Business A.R.T.S. files. For company directory information, Dialog has selected the American Business Directory. Brand By Company/Advertiser comes from Gale's Brands and Their Companies. The Brand News category taps a selection of files already listed, plus Gale's Computer Database, New Product Announcements, Newsletter Database, and Marketing & Advertising Reference Service (MARS). For the Company by Brand Advertiser category, Dialog uses Thomas Register Online and the Advertiser and Agency Red Books. For trademarks, Dialog uses the whole series of Thomson & Thomson Trademarkscan files.

An interesting aside: The Advertiser and Agency Red Books are owned by the LexisNexis Group (Dialog's competitor) through the National Register Publishing subsidiary. Recently, LexisNexis launched a major redesign at the Web site specifically serving subscribers to the Red Books (http://www.redbooks.com). The new approach uses sophisticated computer processing to answer natural language questions. (See http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17472) The Dialog interface, in contrast, offers limited access points, primarily company names and product or brand names. However, the pricing may make DialogPRO more attractive for low-end users.

The 20 files available through pay-per-view, transactional pricing include three Dun & Bradstreet files (U.S., International, Canadian), two Investext files, and a collection of market research sources. (For a full list of sources in DialogPRO, go to http://dialogpro.dialog.com/sources.shtml.)

To use the service, subscribers must have at least a 14.4-K modem, Netscape Navigator 4.x or higher or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher, Adobe Acrobat 3.x or higher, enabled cookies, and enabled JavaScript.

I hate to be a party pooper, but those potential subscribers who actually read the lengthy legalese of Terms and Conditions may hit some snags. There they'll find some interesting usage restrictions, which include the following:

Customer agrees, for itself and for any party acting by or through Customer: (i) To allow its password(s) and any documentation, or data received from the Service, to be used only by Customer's (a) employees, agents or contractors, (b) faculty, enrolled students and staff in the case of educational institutions, or (c) library patrons, in the case of libraries (the authorized users described in subsections (a), (b), and (c) are collectively referred to as the "Approved User-Base"); (ii) Not to transfer, by any means whatsoever, any data or documentation received from the Service (or copies thereof), to any person, organization or institution outside the Approved User-Base and to prohibit any member of the Approved User-Base from doing so; (iii) Not to sell, exchange, barter, or transfer, rent, lease, loan, resell for profit, distribute or in any other manner commercially exploit any data or documentation received from the Service, except for use as part of the ordinary attorney-client or library-patron relationship, and only as such use may be permitted by U.S. copyright law….
This would seem to make it improper for an advertising agency subscribing to DialogPRO Advertising to pass along any material to clients, since they wouldn't qualify for the two specifically exempted groups: attorneys and librarians. (Of course, they could always hire or rent librarians!)

Regardless of who constitutes a legitimate recipient of DialogPRO output, apparently format alone raises another barricade:

Except as authorized pursuant to Service commands (e.g., Dialog ERASM) under no circumstances may Customer, or any party acting by or through Customer, copy or transmit data received from Service in machine-readable form, or retain such data in machine-readable form other than temporarily for purposes of making a single human-readable copy thereof, except as may be expressly authorized in advance by the information provider.
Another "eat this search" warning.

The service marks Dialog's entry into the pursuit of small businesses. Its traditional competitors have followed other strategies. LexisNexis continues to aim at larger clients for the business and news side of its operation. On the legal side, LexisNexis has products and services similar to this; several are marketed to small law firms in concert with bar associations and other groups. Factiva and one of its parents, Dow Jones, continue to offer a vast array of material—its Publication Library has over 6,000 sources, at no charge for searching, but at a fixed price for output. However, while conforming in style and range of content to the global search expectations of most Web users, the Factiva/Dow Jones approach does not offer the budgeted protection that a fixed fee encompassing search results, as DialogPRO does, would for a small business.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice that Dialog's selection of news sources seems singularly stingy. A glance at the OneSearch categories for News in the full Dialog service shows 18 files with archival content, 31 with daily updates, 15 news wires, etc. Even upgrading to the Plus tier in DialogPRO News would only give users trade and general press, not pure news sources like newspapers and wires.

Time—and the market—will tell whether this new Dialog initiative will satisfy the needs of masses of small business owners and staff.


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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