Ferrrari Searching on a Volkswagen Budget

Don't let the "high cost" of value-added information services such as LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva scare you away -- all three offer reasonable pay-as-you-go options appealing even to searchers on a limited budget.

You can't always find everyting on the Internet. Though this may sound like heresy coming from a SearchEngineWatch.com editor, it's an important truth that many people either don't understand or believe.

Serious information professionals know that value-added information services such as LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva offer tons of information not available on the web. This information is also vetted for accuracy and completness, making these services invaluable for those with critical information needs.

They can also be attractive resources even for people without the means to pay the often pricey admission fees charged by the value-added services. In this guest article, noted super searcher Mary Ellen Bates describes the relatively low-cost options and how (and when) to use them for maximum benefit.

High-Value Online Services Without the High Price
by Mary Ellen Bates, Guest Writer

The high-priced value-added information services such as LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva are incredible tools for in-depth research. You'll find content there that will never appear on the web -- articles from industry newsletters, market research reports, databases of chemical structures, and financial information on companies from around the world.

Many of we info pros have learned the ins and outs of searching these resources, and pride ourselves in being able to construct complex searches using the arcane language of each service. But there are times when even we old-timers need to search a database that's not in our repertoire, or to use a service we don't already have a subscription with.

Fortunately, many of the professional online services have developed pay-as-you-go options, user-friendly menus that do most of the heavy lifting in the background, and even offer day passes that let you run all the searches you want for a flat fee. Following is a review of some of the choices if you have an occasional need for power tools but don't want to sign up for an annual subscription.


Dialog is the supermarket of online research, with the broadest range of content, from architecture to zoology. It also has the most obscure command language; long-time Dialog searchers can be seen sitting around the bar, comparing their ability to use the MAP, RANK, and REPORT commands. It's not a pretty sight. Fortunately, Dialog offers a user-friendly option for anyone who has a need for information but no interest in learning advanced search commands.

Dialog's Open Access program has fill-in-the-blank forms for a wide range of topics, including business information, patents, medical research, technology topics and pharmaceutical news. Each search category has screens that prompt you for the appropriate information, specific to the type of search you're doing -- words in the title, if you're searching articles; company name, if you're searching a directory database; patent number, if you're conducting intellectual property research; government agency name, if you're searching government regulations; and so on. Articles are a bit pricey -- $4 for most industry publications and $3.40 for newspaper articles -- but you're tapping into a deep repository, and you'll find information here that you won't find elsewhere.


Right now, Factiva.com is only available to subscribers who are willing to pony up at least $1000/month for a flat-fee contract. Fortunately, they're going to roll out a pay-as-you-go option in March or April of 2003. For an annual subscription fee of $69, billed to your credit card, users can search the Factiva.com sources at no charge, and pay a flat $2.95 per article.

Other content, such as company profiles, investment analysts' reports and corporate credit reports, are priced separately - most will probably run between $5 and $15. If most of your research is business-related, this might be your best option.


LexisNexis offers some unique pay-as-you-go options, including a daily or weekly pass in which you pay a set rate for all you can download from a selected subset of the Nexis database. From the home page, click the link at {Not a Subscriber}. This takes you to the menu page where you can select which of the options you want.

The "pay as you go" choice lets you select the general type of research you'll be doing -- legal, news, company and financial information or public records --and pay per document. Articles are $3 each, company and financial information runs from $4 to $12 per record.

You can also purchase a one-day or one-week "pass" of a selected sub-set of Nexis' holdings. If you plan on conducting intensive but infrequent research, this can be a cost-effective option. Prices range from $30 for a day's worth of searching 50 major newspapers to $250 for a week´s searching in company and financial files and a wide selection of business and trade articles. Be sure to check the source list before you select any of these options; they're not comprehensive, and some sources include selected documents only.

For a more in-depth discussion of the ad-hoc pricing options of the value-added online services, watch for the January 2003 issue of Searcher magazine, in which my article "Can Small Businesses Go Online?: The Professional Online Services Flirt with Mom and Pop" will appear.

Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Washington, DC. Her email address is mbates@BatesInfo.com.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.