Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pre-internet (10): Frozen online

The online industry was in development in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties. But online was expensive, especially for intermediaries in science, scientists and business people. On the other hand information providers, usually publishers of scientific, technical and medical information (STM) wanted more penetration for their electronic information. So they looked around for other carriers than online, especially in the optical field. By the end of the seventies the laser disc had been launched as a consumer product for film, but it lost its race against the video tape. But in the STM world there was interest in the laser disc. In the early eighties a consortium of STM publishers, among which Elsevier Science and Blackwell Scientific, formed the consortium Adonis to produce and distribute scientific articles on laser disc.

However this technology was superseded by the CD-ROM technology in 1984, when Philips started to produce CD-ROM. The carrier was seen as an adequate storage medium with 600Mb. For many STM publishers this was sufficient space to store many of their text databases. Besides the publishers could promote and handle this medium themselves. However in the first year there was a problem with the logical file structure, which bound a product to a particular brand of CD-ROM player. So twelve hard- and software parties came together and established the High Sierra format, which was turned into the ISO 9660 standard in 1988. From the High Sierra format onwards, any information provider could deliver a silver disc for any CD-ROM player. And the STM publishers and information providers made use of it as it was much the same type of subscription management distribution as magazines and books.

To the online industry CD-ROM was a disruptive technology. CD-ROM could hold 600Mb of data, which is a lot of text. And as most of the databases were archive databases putting the database on a CD-ROM was cheaper and more profitable than putting the material online. Besides, with CD-ROM no taxi meter was running in the back of the mind of researchers. And for information provider with timely information, h could choose for a hybrid distribution model offering timely information online and the archive on disc. This business model was adopted by STM publishers and information provider a well as business publishers.

The Dutch publisher Kluwer had started a commercial online service in 1980 and started to experiment with CD-ROM in 1987. By 1988 it published the legal database on the silver disc, while it used online only for timely matters. The Royal Tropical Institute ran it database Agris on two host computers/servers. Its audience were intermediaries in countries with problematic telephone networks and with high costs. So when he institute started to distribute the disc KIT Abstracts, it reached more subscribers than online.

Although many a publisher believed that the combination of online and CD-ROM had a healthy life expectancy, the business model was over by 1995 and the publisher and information providers had to cope with another disruptive technology: internet. Companies like Kluwer had to invest again. And Elsevier Science started the radical idea to bring all its publications, including its article archives, into the ScienceDirect database. By 2000 STM text CD-ROMs were over and online had been defrosted.

Blog Posting Number: 1224

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