Information Today
Volume 17, Number 3 ē March 2000
ē Database Review ē
Kiplinger Brings Its Letters Online
These two new services show that more elite sources are moving online 
by Mick OíLeary


As information has flowed from print publications and proprietary online services to the Web, it has followed a consistent pattern: the cheaper and more common the information, the earlier it has appeared on the Web, whether in free or fee-based Web sites. First came news, stock quotes, and public domain government data; these have always been cheap, and have now become completely commoditized. Then came items like newspapers, consumer magazines, and press releases, which are also inexpensive and widely available, which makes Web distribution less chancy for their producers.

On the other end of the spectrum, expensive and exclusive types of information have made their way to the Web much more slowly and hesitantly. This includes things like forecasting services, advisory newsletters, and market research reports, which have an air of insider status, even mystery, about them. They purport to give you an edge that the masses do not have, to provide secret tips that will advance your fortune or your status. They are expensive, on the notion that you get what you pay for. They are usually not available on newsstands or in libraries. Their publishers have typically been wary of the open, unruly Web, which runs counter to the elitist, exclusive natures of their products.
 

Leading Advisory Letters
But the Web is like a black hole that sooner or later sucks everything into it. Some of the most prominent insider publications, The Kiplinger Letters, are now on the Web, in fine form. Kiplinger has taken its venerable advisory newsletters and adapted them into a state-of-the-art Web service, with links, interactive departments, and other slick Web tricks. The new product, entitled the Kiplinger Special Service (http://www.special.kiplinger.com), is also closely integrated into the Web itself, with links to hundreds of external sites.

Kiplinger is perhaps the most prominent and well-known name among advisory newsletters. The first title, The Kiplinger Letter, appeared in 1923 with news, commentary, and predictions on business, political events, and trends. Later other Letters were added, covering taxes, agriculture, retirement, and California. (There must be a lot of subscribers there.) The company also publishes books, videos, and Kiplinger Personal Finance, a mass-market magazine covering personal finance and money management.

Among advisory newsletters, the Kiplinger publications are actually on the conservative side. They are not stock pickers, oracles, or fortunetellers. They donít imply that youíll become a millionaire in 6 months if you buy their stock recommendations or otherwise follow their advice. Instead, they provide thorough reporting and reasonable forecasts based on well-informed extrapolation from current trends. They are written in a plain, direct style that abstains from literary or journalistic flourishes.

The Lettersí reputable stance and no-nonsense presentation probably account for their longevity and large circulation, as does their relatively low cost. The weekly Kiplinger Letter is $76 per year, and the others range from $56 to $73.
 

KSS Bundles Kiplinger Content
The Kiplinger Special Service (KSS) bundles The Kiplinger Letters into a single, integrated, full-text database. It isnít arranged by magazine, but instead is in eight broad categories: Economy, Population, Federal Finances, Legislation, Regulation, Strategic Planning, Employee Relations, and Business Resources. Each of these is further subclassified into its major sectors. Economy, for example, is subdivided into Output, Inflation, Consumers, Money, Trade, the Stock Market, etc. It is a logical arrangement, and it demonstrates the wide range of Kiplingerís interests, from labor force projections, banking regulations, and consumer spending patterns to budget deficits, business climate forecasts, and market outlooks. Each subcategory contains numerous articles, arranged by date, and extending back about 1 year. The category/subcategory format allows for easy browsing, or users may search the entire database by section, subject category, or keyword.

Just having an online, full-text, searchable database of Kiplingerís content would be nice, but itís not spectacular. However, Kiplinger has taken great advantage of the hypertext capabilities and vast data riches of the Web to make its site a deep and powerful research resource.

Each article is well supplied with links to related Kiplinger articles and to companies, organizations, associations, and government agencies that are mentioned in the text. Most articles also have a Tables and Charts appendix, which contains 1 or 2 dozen links to relevant statistical data sources. The tables and charts are valuable supplements to the reporting and forecasts in the Letters themselves. They represent a great deal of labor in scanning the Web for statistical time series and forecasts sources, and then linking them extensively throughout hundreds of individual articles.

Most of the data come from the standard federal sources: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Commerce Department, Federal Reserve Board, etc. The rest come from a large, diverse set of trade association, publisher, and other .com and .org sites. For some forecast series, where the producerís data donít look far enough ahead, Kiplinger has supplemented the information with its own forecasts. Table and chart links are, thankfully, to the specific page where the data appear rather than just to the siteís home page.
 

The Rest of KSS
KSS also has current news and a few interactive sections. KSS uses Reuters to provide the current dayís business news stories, which are updated continuously. Such a sparse, unadorned news section is disappointing, especially compared to the careful work thatís been done elsewhere in KSS. We would like, at least, to have news stories sorted by broad category, important general news stories, market reports, and perhaps a few daysí retrospective coverage.

An Ask KIP query department enables members to submit questions. Itís hard to assess the volume or quality of this service because most of the replies are not posted. Those that are published appear to be complete, thought-out responses.

Overall, KSS is logically and cleanly designed. Screens are clearly and attractively laid out, navigation is simple, and links among pages and sections are amply provided and clearly positioned. As a fee-based service, there are also no ads to divert your attention. KSS has flat-rate, unlimited pricing based on the number of simultaneous users. There are two schedules: for corporate and academic/public library clients. Corporate pricing starts at $1,995 for one user, $2,995 for five users, and tops out at $9,745 for 50 users. Academic/public pricing is 10- to 40-percent lower at $1,795 for one user, $2,635 for five, and $5,944 for 50.
 

Kiplinger at No Cost
If you donít want to spend any money at all, you have an attractive alternative in Kiplingerís free site, Kiplinger.com (http://www.kiplinger.com). This is a Web version of Kiplingerís Personal Finance magazine, and it shares some of KSSís virtues, including much proprietary Kiplinger content, excellent external Web links, interactive sections, and good design.

Unlike KSS, which is a business and management tool, Kiplinger.com is for personal finance: money management, investments, insurance, taxes, retirement planning, etc. (Thereís a lot on retirement; Kiplingerís readers must include a lot of seniors living in the Sunbelt!) There are 11 sections representing broad personal finance topics. Each contains numerous full-text articles from the magazine. Useful here are the Basics articles, which are short, introductory primers on finance topics. Content is browsable and searchable.

Each section has numerous links to relevant, well-chosen external Web sites. For example, the Investment sections have links to stock quotes, stock screening services, market reports, mutual fund profiles, etc. Each also has a good selection of interactive calculators and worksheets. Altogether there are almost 100 of these, covering every personal finance topic.

So whether youíre charting your companyís future or just trying to figure out what kind of tires to buy, Kiplingerís has a Web site for you. From exclusive forecasting to everyday advice, KSS and Kiplinger.com will be trustworthy research assistants. They provide information and advice thatís been proven worthy by the long success of their print counterparts. They are intuitive, up-to-date, and well organized. Theyíll provide information, forecasts, statistics, and planning tools for nearly every company or personal finance topicóespecially if youíre a senior whoís interested in retiring to California.
 
 

Mick OíLeary has been using and writing about online information for over 15 years. He is the director of the library at Frederick, Maryland, and a principal in The Data Brokers, an information consultancy. His e-mail address is 71735.2041@compuserve.com.


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