Divas and D&B Reports

I never did believe that information wanted to be free ... just respected for more than its good looks. Apparently, no one else got the memo.

As a proud owner of a new Droid phone, I was looking for an app to sync it with my laptop. There were several hacks using Google Calendar, but nothing that matched the ease of my old Palm. I finally found a forum posting about a cute little piece of software that syncs elegantly. But, of course, it cost money, and who would pay for it when there's a free, albeit awkward, workaround?

Yeah, I'm a sucker when it comes to spending money to save my time. And I was dismayed by the number of people taking umbrage at apps with a price tag. This is where my inner capitalist overcomes my innate socialism. It's great that people write freeware, but no one is obligated to give their intellectual property away without compensation.

In keeping with the long tail principle, the economics of the apps market work; there may be relatively few people willing to pay for something, but enough will pay to sustain a business. In order to survive, the product or service must offer visible, tangible benefits not offered by its free competitors.

This takes us to the notion of making value visible. Econtent, in and of itself, often isn't seen as particularly valuable. We can find the same material elsewhere on the web if we look hard enough, or we can find something else that we perceive as good enough. For information-and access to it-to be priced profitably, the value of the content must be readily apparent.

I was struck with this the other day while doing research on water politics for a client. For part of my research, I could use either Dialog.com or Factiva.com-essentially the same content but vastly different pricing plans. As it turned out, I used Dialog for some CPU-intensive data mining, which meant that I had a big bill and very little tangible content at the end, but I was able to glean information I could get nowhere else and that was exactly what my client needed. For much of the rest of my research, I used Factiva because I didn't need the high-end search and analysis tools available on Dialog, just the content.

In some instances, serviceable is exactly what I want: Make it easy for me to get the job done quickly and efficiently. In other cases, I want the informational equivalent of the diva with a four-octave range and a $500/ticket performance price. And just as I wouldn't hire the diva for my niece's birthday party, I wouldn't send a serviceable singer to perform at the Met.

What stood out in both of these situations was that the value must be apparent on its face and appropriate for the cost. I have different expectations for Dialog and Factiva, and both offer me good value for the price. In fact, I am fiercely loyal to both but for different reasons. I am also concerned about how they, and all econtent companies, are responding to the new information environment, and this applies to us info pros as well.

We default to looking for information on free sources first, on the assumption that it saves us money and possibly time. We look for free apps, free searching, and free content. We often treat a price tag as damage and, like the internet, simply go around it.

However, there are still brands that carry weight. I have clients who ask for a "D&B" on the company. They aren't asking me to retrieve a Dun & Bradstreet Business Information Report on a company; they just want a well-organized briefing on the company. Note that the equivalent to a D&B report for web research is to "Google something," with the implicit expectation that you will find something, but not necessarily the most useful information.

We want to make sure that what we deliver to our clients creates the same kind of brand recognition as a D&B report-something that demands a price tag because of the value it provides. Most of what differentiates a D&B report and what you could find through publicly available resources is simplicity, reliability, and ease of use. The added value is in the massaging, not the underlying data. Are you creating a brand with as much credibility yourself?