Sometimes you want to find overall information about people and/or businesses in a certain geographic area. Sometimes you want to find geographic areas based on specifics of overall information. Sometimes you just want to find specifics on particular people and/or businesses by name. Sometimes you want to find the names based on the specifics of general information. And, sometimes you want to do all of the above, gliding from statistics to directory data and back again. That can get tricky. But Gale, a division of Cengage Learning, has just released an upgraded platform for its DemographicsNow service called DemographicsNow: Business & People that will do all of the above—if, that is, your local public or academic library subscribes to it. And, the library can even link you to the e-resource via their website for your 24/7 access if it has an adequate authentication system.
The original DemographicsNow service launched in 2007 featured primarily canned reporting and thematic maps. It came in four sub packages: State and State with Expenditures, National and National with Expenditures. All four are now merged into the Library Edition, which remains available. Any library subscribing to the new DemographicsNow: Business & People will have all the information in the Library Edition as well. The new “intuitive” interface and interactive mapping features launched with the new platform will also work for the Library Edition.
As to how the service has changed, Gerald Sawchuk, the product’s publisher and the person in charge of public library solutions at Gale, remarked that the “older version has changed quite a bit. In 2007, we offered fairly basic mapping, not too complicated. We didn’t want to require libraries to download additional software, But in 2012, all that is changed, most of it is in the cloud with no downloading needed. So we have enhanced mapping. Before users could only do thematic mapping. Now they can create a geography, not bound by ordinary geographic definitions. They can annotate the map through icons. In the future we’ll add more enhancements into both versions of the product.”
But why talk about the relatively tame Library Edition when the wonders of Business & People await? The new flow of online business and residential information covers more than 23 million businesses and 206 million consumers. The business data even tags some 4 million firms with such factors as telephone disconnects, undeliverable addresses, business license expirations, etc., have indicated they have gone out of business since the year 2000. The people data cross-checks addresses for individuals to create 135 million households.
Gale sees the new service as replacing enough other sources at an attractive enough price to draw libraries in these tough budget times. It also sees the data as serving the needs of a wide variety of patrons, particularly those dealing with the tough economy, such as small business owners, entrepreneurs, salespeople, job seekers, students, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations. By downloading local data and integrating it with circulation and other patron-usage data, libraries could even find it handy for their own strategic planning.
The new service covers any U.S. geography (e.g., county, ZIP code, congressional district, census tract, and metropolitan area) and allows users to create their own customized geographic areas. Thematic maps come with coloring scales. Statistical data on people includes income, housing, race, age, education, retail spending, etc. Clicking on the Business tab opens searches by company name, business type, executive title, credit rating, number of employees, minority ownership, etc. The Households tab lets users search by name, address, phone number, a variety of U.S. Census neighborhood data averages, and so on. According to Sawchuk, the people information often includes phone numbers and even email identifiers.
Once collected, users can download the data into standard MS Word, Acrobat PDF, or MS Excel spreadsheet files. Some additional data formats are available for specific types of date (e.g., HTML or XLSX for Census 2010 output).
With DemographicsNow: Business & People operating at full strength, libraries could offer patrons a fairly comprehensive tool for building business plans, market and site location analyses, competitive intelligence, job opportunities, sales lead lists, mailing lists, and even (God help us!) call lists for telemarketers. Sawchuk hedged a bit on the personal privacy side of things. He said that the site warned people not to use email or phone numbers for spam, but it does not exclude numbers based on the federal “Do Not Call” service. A lot of the information about people comes from consumer transactions where users may post delivery addresses and phone number/email verifications. If consumers haven’t clicked on an opt-out box, in they go. “Telemarketing can be done. We don’t warn against that, but we do warn people about the 'do not call' list. Our data partners don’t verify against that list. We are meeting all federal and state laws.”
The search function comes in two standard versions—Quick Search and Custom Search. For example, under the Business tab, a Quick Search would find a business by words in the company name, an executive’s first and/or last name, or a geographic location. A Custom Search would be used to create lists of target businesses or potential competitors. For example, one could track a failure rate for an industry by firms that went out of business since 2000. Sawchuk indicated that a full business file search would still include those out-of-business items, requiring a searcher to use the filter feature to get rid of them. Since the out-of-business designations are estimated to be only 80%-90% accurate, they didn’t want to exclude the companies. Listings are tagged, however.
As to People and Household data, the sources use directory assistance and white pages data, but expand upon that significantly, realizing that these landline listings no longer have the thorough reach they once had with the emergence of new phone service providers like cable TV companies and all the wireless services. Today, they tap into a range of sources, many internet/web based, such as CNAM subscribers and consumer-initiated transactional data.
For People, the Quick Search will find individuals using first and/or last name and one or more geographic criteria. The Custom Search can combine filtering options such as name, phone, street address, and Census data averages such as median household income, education, etc.
For example, a Comparison Report on any U.S. geographies could include income, housing, race, age, education, retail spending, consumer expenditures, businesses, census data, and MOSAIC lifestyle market segmentation classifications. Summary and Rank reports are also available. Customizable, printable maps come with a variety of views, such as road, aerial, or base. From a map, uses can move to demographic statistics and lists of businesses and people in the geographies.
A Census 2010 wizard in DemographicsNow responds to a user’s geography selection with data from currently available data releases. The geography selection can be a street address, city, state, ZIP code, or trade area size in miles or minutes. It takes several years for the Bureau of the Census to process all the data from a decennial census. DMAs, MSAs, CBSAs and other large areas may come out quicker, but it will take some time before the block group data gets published. Nevertheless, Sawchuk indicated that Gale will keep adding whatever the Census Bureau supplies as the service grows.
To find more information about DemographicsNow, both Library Edition and Business & People or to request a free trial, go to www.gale.cengage.com/demographicsnow. The Library Edition portion carries fact sheets for both public and academic libraries. The service also offers lots of Help pages and six different 2- to 4-minute audio/video, how-to tutorials: build a sales lead list, find a business, find a person, use mapping, access Census 2010 data, and generate a demographic report.
Speaking of instructional material, there is no question that for lots of people handling statistical content, not to mention mapping, can be a challenge. The DemographicsNow versions, both Library Edition and Business & People, come with extensive documentation. The Data Methodology reports can run up to 15 pages single spaced with mind-numbing, eyes-glaze-over details.
But let me warn you, as a reference librarian with a history of having to deal with this uncomfortable data, if you don’t find such details from a numbers-oriented service, flee, flee! The first question for any statistical service is, “Where did this data come from?”; the second is “What does it cover?” Gale’s DemographicsNow documentation satisfies those criteria. And when you see language such as “Because of …, users must be cautious in comparing …,” you may think “Oh, no. I’m still in trouble”, but in point of fact you are so much safer with an honest statistician. Remember how Mark Twain loved to remind us, “There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians,” but caveats from statistical sources signal a true concern for users. In serious searches, searches with consequences, librarians and patrons should double-check documentation. For example, in the Business data category, the tag “minority-owned” may actually include the majority, namely women.
In fact, Gale openly states that it gets much of its Business data from Applied Geographic Solutions (AGS), and its People data from AMACAI Solutions, a TARGUSinfo company. And these expert services, which themselves blend multiple sources and even do forecasts, clearly supply much of the documentation.
So, how can you get hold of this magical new tool? Pricing, as usual, varies based largely on potential user base. According to a Gale representative, “Public library pricing is based on the size of the population served and starts at approx. $3,200 for a for a one-year subscription. Academic library pricing is based on an institution’s FTE and starts at approx. $7,600 for a one-year subscription. For two-year institutions, pricing starts at approx. $4,200.” That covers the new DemographicsNow: Business & People service, which incorporates all the content from the newly consolidated Library Edition. For just the Library Edition, a public library one-year subscription starts at $1,500 and an academic library one-year starts at $3,600 with “two-year institutions” prices starting at $2,200. Clearly, negotiation is always possible.
Sawchuk indicated Gale had about 100 clients for the previous DemographicsNow, but one of them was the entire state of Florida, which redistributes to all their libraries. In designing the pricing for the product, Sawchuk said the company looked at products used in libraries now and tried to price it at less than it would take to buy three major services that perform DemographicsNow: Business & People’s functions. “Our purpose in the design was to lower the price for multiple data sources and connect them so all were interrelated.”
By the way, I asked Sawchuk what the difference was between the academic and public library versions. At present, he said it was the same service. “But we are likely going to add additional files in a spin-off academic version because we have to pay for data and our sources may not want it to go into public libraries. Academic want more information on consumer research. They do more theoretical analysis versus practical analysis.”
As to the future of the service, Sawchuk said “a lot of things are being planned. Our baby was just born this February. We plan to add additional types of data files to put in the product. We may have unique products for each library and let them order files separately. We don’t want to overwhelm people, but we could add more data files like government free files, crime data, traffic statistics, all kinds. We also have plans to allow shapefiles for GIS analysis. The structure is now in place. It’s much more than just a directory look-up tool. The moon is where we can go!”
Gale is not the only firm in the field. Two postings this month in our Weekly News Digests covered geographic data services from CIVICTechnologies: http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/Digest/New-Mapping-Capabilities-Enhance-BusinessDecision-81013.asp