Saturday, October 27, 2007

Information: The Perfect Economic Good (Part 6)

ELECTRONIC DATABASES AS AN ECONOMIC GOOD

One information good that follows Bates thought that information has a utility and follows Varian’s reasoning of bypassing the three areas of concerns are electronic databases. There is no uniform definition of what is meant by databases from the legal or economic point of view (Lopez 9) but according to Google.com, an electronic database is an organized collection of electronic records that can easily be searched using specific software. In the European Directive 96/9 EC article 1.2 it states that a database is “a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means” (Lopez 9)

This would include telephone directories or university courses, including things as diverse as genetic or satellite information banks, dictionaries, meteorological records, horse racing results, TV program guides, collection of legal, commercial or financial information newspapers, libraries (both physical and digital), company brochures medicinal vademecums, compilation of natural or experimental observations in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.; indexes made by Internet search software agents may also come under this definition. (Lopez 9)

With developed countries being the main producers and consumers of databases (Lopez 3) many their companies have categorized information about their service or product and placed them in an electronic database and have charged patrons a fee to access this. A very popular example of this phenomenon is the fact that most major metropolitan newspapers have started to charge a fee for browsing back-issues of the newspapers. In addition to newspapers, there are companies whose sole purpose is to collect information, catalog it and sell access to the information.

With the onslaught of lower quality information that can be obtained cheaply, specific areas are more than willing to pay a lot of money for good information. Clinicians pay for subscriptions to journals or purchase texts to maintain their skills, knowledge and professional standing. Pharmaceutical companies are happy to pay physicians for data about their prescribing behaviors so that the data can be arranged to reveal prescribing patterns for the companies’ products. (Coiera 217) Also, producers may obtain more revenue for individual information items if they bundle them with other, disparate items and then sell access to the whole package to recover their fixed costs through creative pricing and marketing. (Coiera 220)

LexisNexis and EbscoHost are two very large collections of information where thousands of people and organizations, public and private, pay to use. In “Getting Down to Business”, a review by Gail Golderman and Bruce Connolly of electronic databases, a synopsis of the contents of a few of the larger databases can be found. The following are a few examples.

Company: ProQuest Information and Learning
A leading source of international business information for more than 30 years, is considered by many to be an essential resource for colleges, universities, and business schools. With a front-end searching and display interface produced by ProQuest Information and Learning, the database remains at the top of the list for the study of business conditions and industry specific topics worldwide.

Database: Business & Company Resource Center
Company: Gale Group
Integrates worldwide coverage for company profiles, industry profiles, and 3650 business periodicals, of which 2600 are available in full text. Company pro-files are offered for U.S. and international public and private companies. The database details 4600+ worldwide company histories and chronologies, which are updated annually; investment reports; financials; rankings; suits and claims; and product and industry reviews. It also offers valuable access to business journal news and analysis, consumer marketing data, emerging technology reports, and 20-minute delayed stock quotes.

Database: RDS Business Reference Suite
Company: Gale Group
A collection of three highly complementary business information databases, originally produced by Responsive Database Services (now part of the Gale Group family). Business & Industry, Business & Management Practices, and TableBase are particularly strong for company and industry analysis. In combination, they form a powerful resource that provides access to company and industry news, management practices, and market research information. Since they are three distinct products, institutions may elect to purchase each separately. The Business Reference Suite contains 1400+ business sources, 60 percent of which are full text and nearly half are international in scope.

Database: Business Source Premier
Company: EBSCOHost Publishing
Emphasis on research-oriented and scholarly business literature. Of the 3350 titles from 1965 to the present, over 80 percent are available in full text, and of these 911 are peer-reviewed.


So, while some electronic journals may make it’s contents available free to the public, it may provide extra services to its fee paying subscribers, such as the ability to see articles prior to general release, advanced search and current awareness notification services, higher-resolution images, and access to links to related materials. (Coiera 221) As you can see, the information that is contained in some of these databases could be very valuable to organizations, businesses or individuals. With millions of people paying a fee to access the information contained in each of these databases, or a combination of databases, we see that information definitely has a value attached, has a utility, and with the fact that people can print out information obtained from these databases, can be transferred. Additional things that makes information an economic good is the uncertainty of the precise outcome of production or exchange of information goods, the infinite reproductability of information and that the transfer of information goods to another does not diminish the stock of the information held by the first holder and information is reproducible at next to no cost.

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