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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Free NYT + Free WSJ = Free Fed Info?

While we haven’t been great at generating comments, I wanted to toss out a discussion topic and see where it goes.

As I hope many of you know, the New York Times has dropped subscriber charges and the uber-capitalist Wall Street Journal will follow suit in the next few months. The NYT found they were losing more in ad revenue than gaining in subscriptions. New WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch is on record saying that ad revenue is where the money is.

What, if anything, does the death of premium subscriptions for propriety content, mean for electronic federal information that gets sold? Not just the GPO Sales program, but NTIS, PACER, so-called cooperative publications and the rest? What is their future? Do they have one? At least the NYT and WSJ had copyrighted materials they could defend. With some exceptions, federal information is public domain. Once you get it out of a paid system, you can use it how you want. It’s not quite that easy since a few federal fee-based databases are licensed, but it’s mostly true.

We at FGI think there is answer — that selling federal information, aside from being an affront to the taxpayers who paid for the the first time, will not be viable. It wasn’t when GPO tried it in the early 1990s and it won’t be now. Eventually fee-based gov’t information will need to be provided freely, like NYT and WSJ. Though without the ads. It’s not inevitable, but even the market seems like it may be trending that way. What do you think?


Will GPO charge for a Bill Summary Database?

Rob Pierson met yesterday with the folks in charge of Thomas at the Library of Congress. Rob is Vice-President of Technology at the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and reported on his meeting to the Open House Project Group.

Rob’s message has several things of interest to government information professionals including:

  • The relationship betweeen the CRS Legislative Information System (LIS) and Thomas.
  • The rationale for having a less featured search system for Thomas (they are trying to appeal to a different audience).
  • Thomas and LIS are both working on upgrading their systems and the Thomas folks are working extensively with the LIS folks and are incorporating elements of LIS into Thomas.
  • Their expectation that the new XML bill summary database would probably be available through GPO and might not be freely available to the public. “The XML version of bills and roll call votes is currently available to the public for free, and it would be a very problematic break with that precedent if GPO began selling legislative XML data. This isn’t yet set in stone, however.”

Rob also attached a document, which provides a background into what LIS is planning for the future, as well as some history of the group. You can download it from the URL above and i’ve also put a copy for your convenience here. (THE LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION SYSTEM: OBJECTIVES AND PLANS FOR THE RETRIEVAL SYSTEM IN THE YEAR 2007, Prepared by the Congressional Research Service and the Office of Information Technology Services Library of Congress, January 2007.)

I would be very interested to hear if anyone knows if GPO plans to sell the XML data or make it available without charge or if they have not decided and are considering charging.