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Find-for-Free Policy Returns for Infotrieve’s ArticleFinder
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Posted On January 16, 2006
The price for "finding" content continues to plummet. Online consumers, casual or professional, continue to vote with their keyboards. The election results seem to indicate that "discovery," i.e., the identification of the existence of specific sources of information, should be free to the consumer, à la Google. In 2000, Infotrieve, a leading document delivery and content management company, followed the free model when it launched ArticleFinder (http://www.infotrieve.com/af), a giant, sci-tech bibliographic database. In 2003, it converted the service to a paid access model, using it to support the content management services offered to its corporate and institutional clients, while offering individuals a $99 per year version. Now it's 2006 and ArticleFinder is again open to all Web users at no cost, offering more than 26 million citations and 8.5 million abstracts from more than 54,000 journals. Infotrieve promises full document delivery for almost all content, but the "fetch" function is definitely not free.

ArticleFinder's content encompasses scientific, technical, and medical journals with a heavy emphasis on the life sciences, e.g., content from Medline/PubMed, as well as data from ERIC, IEEE, IEE, and Infotrieve's network of direct publisher relationships. Ian Palmer, director of marketing at Infotrieve, said that the company relies on publisher feeds to build the database. He also pointed out that it covers more than life sciences, e.g., automotive, food, consumer goods, etc. The database updates partially each day with a full update every week adding an average of 44,000 records.

Searches of ArticleFinder tap into the bibliographic citations or abstracts, not the full text of articles. Results are relevancy-ranked and, for each citation, carry icons that indicate such features as the availability of a free abstract, a Table-of-Contents alert, linked holdings (only for Virtual Library customers), and document availability as PDF or scanned PDF. Searchers can set search filters to target citations where an abstract is available or the document is available electronically. Virtual Library customers can limit result displays to items for which they have licensed access.

In announcing the reversion to a "no-charge" policy, Infotrieve compared ArticleFinder searches to using Google Scholar, pointing out that—unlike Google Scholar—ArticleFinder searches increase the total number of copyrighted articles retrievable, allow selection of articles for addition to a shopping cart throughout the search process, provide a single document-delivery provider, and don't run ads on results pages. On the other hand, if an article has a free version available through the open Web or a Google connection, Google Scholar will offer users the "freebie" option. ArticleFinder will present the billable one, whether pay-per-view or prepaid through subscription licenses. Which version of an article is the most reliable and most complete remains for the user to evaluate.

As to the charges for document delivery, Palmer said that the price for pay-per-view has two components: a $12 service fee plus a copyright fee that varies from publisher to publisher, but averages around $18 to $20, though it can go as high as $30. That's an average of $30 to $32 or more per article. The articles appear in PDF set for one of three levels of encryption, again depending on the publisher. The three levels are no encryption, view-many/print-many (VM-PM), or view-once/print-once (V1-P1).

ArticleFinder continues to play a role within Infotrieve's proprietary, licensed services, such as its Virtual Library technology platform and Life Science Research Center. In the former, Infotrieve's corporate clients can link holdings and electronic journal subscriptions for document delivery in-house, while still searching outside sources and eliminating duplicate purchases. In the latter (http://www.infotrieve.com/lsrc), searching expands to the full text of articles with key word in context (KWIC) result displays. ArticleFinder Extreme (AFX) is Infotrieve's federated search solution, but it expands beyond ArticleFinder, linking to any data source through more than 3,100 connector agents and removing duplicates, according to Palmer. The "plain vanilla" version of AFX is preconfigured to cover a client library's holdings, ArticleFinder, and PubMed. After that, users may add whatever databases they choose. Palmer seemed uncomfortable with the name, ArticleFinder Extreme, saying that they didn't refer to it as that any more.

Jenny Connelly, Infotrieve vice president of marketing and product management, said: "Providing a single source retrieval option for STM content is the next big challenge in user satisfaction for Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and others, whether they partner with a company like Infotrieve or attempt to find another way to accomplish this objective." And Infotrieve would like to help the major Web search engines reach this goal. According to Palmer, "Ideally we would like some kind of partnership, to make deals with organizations like Google and Yahoo! to tap ArticleFinder as a valuable resource when people need articles." To that end, the ArticleFinder database is open to the Web search engines. Palmer told me that the company also has good relationships with OCLC, the leading library vendor.

I asked Palmer why Infotrieve had decided to move to a free model for ArticleFinder now. He said: "We were just looking at different parts of our business, housecleaning at the year's end, and saw it was what made sense. It would satisfy the marketplace. Open discovery allows for comparative shopping and creates interesting market forces. It is interesting to see how publishers, aggregators, and the massive search sites will change. We make our bread and butter in the corporate sector, but we have benefits that can serve all. All of us need to please people who demand content. As an industry we all need to learn the lessons of history. Few business models that industries use at their inception ever stay the same. We're not in this by ourselves. There are larger industry and organizational issues, but there has to be some larger collective approach to the issues. If we don't meet customers' needs, then the whole game changes."


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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