Life is funny, you know. Sometimes you look at certain situations and you just cannot imagine why people are doing what they are doing. First, you try to puzzle it out with research to find the missing factor that can make sense of it. Of course, too much of that kind of alternative-scenario strategizing can turn you into a conspiracy buff. Such creativity is useful, but only when balanced with Quint’s First Law of Politics (“Never attribute to conspiracy what can be fully explained by stupidity.”). Most often when you spot people making flamboyantly inappropriate moves, it isn’t so much stupidity as getting caught between two smart strategies, both pulling in opposite directions. A near-term strategy tells them to grab the money, while a long-term strategy calls for content/service quality issues to dominate. Sadly, life being not that funny after all, success in the long-term requires both—immediate revenue to survive and a high-quality reputation to prevail.
Hard-headed business concerns have led vendors and investors as far astray as soft-hearted do-gooding. Let your mind wander back to the early days of Google. Taking on the taming of the entire web and delivering all that research for nothing?! Google must be mad! It must be some sort of a con. Google is probably delivering the most intimate details of every user’s life—and their employer’s—to anyone who’ll give them a dime. How else could Google make the money to do the job? It couldn’t be from those anemic ads you practically have to squint to read, the ones some of Google ‘s most expensive new money pit projects, such as Google Books, don’t even carry.
Nobody can fool a conspiracy buff. You’re not going to get them to throw away their money buying Google stock. Yeah.
A month or so ago, I did two NewsBreaks for the infotoday.com website, both covering activities of the same company—ProQuest. One was a sad tale on an arrangement with a net newbie that appeared to have the effect of violating the sacred law dating back to the Hippocratic oath—“First, do no harm.” If the initial marketing plans were carried out, it seemed inevitable that library clients would end up with an inferior product to what they had before and at a massive rise in price. Actually, librarians being the prudent shoppers they are, it appeared that the information would simply vanish from many library e-shelves. Sad. (Read the story for yourself at newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/ProQuest-Takes-Over-Library-Marketing-for-NewspaperARCHIVEcom-Turmoil-and-Tumult-88455.asp.)
Libraries struggling to pay library rates for products with low-priced consumer versions has become a frequent phenomenon. In this case, it wasn’t just the money. Libraries would be denied access to the file as a whole, which would influence the usability of the database in one of its prime and most advertised usage areas. What to do? What to do? Here’s a thought: What about returning to the olden days of intermediary searching? The area of usage affected by the new policy is genealogy, one of the few growing usage areas for databases in public libraries. Perhaps one could pay a cheap membership fee and give patrons an expert searcher to go with it. Or maybe a library could buy up a dozen unlimited membership cards for the consumer service and hand them out to patrons to use at the public computers. This would take a bit of fiddling with passwords etc., but that data is kind of delicious and might be worth the effort.
In any case, the ProQuest approach with handling the new content seemed singularly odd and unproductive. Almost enough to give a conspiracy buff a rash, not to mention a rush to judgment.
A couple of weeks later, I did a NewsBreak on another announcement by ProQuest, namely its incoming launch of Summon 2.0 (newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Serials-Solutions-Summon—Coming-in-June-88727.asp). Here every thing was peaches and cream. Lovely new en hancements, lots of librarian and user feedback built into the changes, best practices all the way. And, the entire upgrade would come to users for no extra charge. Too cool! But are these the same people who planned to offer the content for coverage of one large state for $200 more (cheapest level) than libraries previously paid for all 50 (plus the District of Columbia, Canada, and the U.K.)? And imagine if the managers to whom a library licensing a subset of NEWSPAPERarchive.com report started doing a strict audit. The situation could end up described in NEWSPAPERarchive.com’s coverage of local newspapers. I can see the beginning of the headline: “Taxpayer dollars …,” or maybe, “Library squanders …” How can the same outfit be so right one day and so wrong another?
I mean … I really mean … Words fail me. Well, not completely. One thing is clear: Any pricing policy that ends up negatively affecting the quality of the product delivered and denying access is the worst case, violating any long-term strategy for success or even survival. And any policy that makes librarians look and feel foolish should make for enough bad press to affect near-term revenues as well. As they say, “What goes around comes around.”
Life is funny. It really is. But you want to see everyone smiling, not just one set of customers.