While computers are used in most aspects of publishing today, the typical ''publication'' continues to be a printed monograph, journal, or newspaper. The major exception has been indexes and abstracts, which began to become available on magnetic tape as long as 30 years ago.
However, mounting magnetic tapes of large data files on computers and searching against them is expensive. Most of the centers in major academic institutions in North America discontinued the practice in the 1980s because most files were not used enough to justify their cost. Instead, the users were encouraged to rely on online access through a data base service such as Dialog, BRS or any one of several others. Not only was the use of such a broker more cost effective, but training and other support were available.
Since its formation in 1972 Dialog has grown to a 24-hour service offering access to 350 data bases consisting of more than 200 million records. While usually less expensive than mounting files on a local mainframe, the cost of searches often exceed $100 per hour. Since an unskilled searcher can escalate a search into an hour that a skilled searcher could do in ten minutes, most online searching in the past few years has been by skilled intermediaries (usually librarians), rather than the end-user. There usually has been a charge-back, at least for data base charges, connect time, and off-line printing. This has limited the availability of the service to those who could afford to pay for it.
For the past decade several data base producers have been seeking ways to deliver their service to the end user without using a data base broker such as Dialog. By doing so the data base producers could avoid sharing the revenue with the broker, and possibly reduce the price and thereby expand the market. For a while, digitally encoded videodisc appeared to be the most appropriate distribution medium. A number of data bases were distributed on videodisc for two or more years. However, the high costs of mastering and replicating the discs, and the cost of the disc players, led to an investigation of other technologies. In 1983 attention turned to CD-ROM, a technology introduced just a year earlier; by 1985 a few publications on CD-ROM began to appear.
Libraries also have been looking for ways to gain control of the open-ended costs associated with providing access to computer-readable information. The motivation has been not so much the lowering of costs but rather the controlling of costs, the ability to set a fixed budget at the beginning of a year and meet all demands without exceeding that budget while continuing to provide data base services at no charge to the user beyond tuition and/ or tax payments. CD-ROM technology appears to be one solution because it offers high capacity at moderate cost. Data base Producers have been persuaded to offer their services in this format. By the end of 1989 there were over 400 commercially marketed products, up by 60 percent over the previous year and the number of installed CD-ROM drives exceeded 375,000, an increase of more than 102 percent over 1988. (However, a large majority of these drives are used with inhouse CD-ROMs produced by large companies.) The increasing maturity of CD-ROM technology as a publication medium is evidenced by the fact that a committee of the National Information Standards Organization (part of the American National Standards Institute) is developing standards for CD-ROM bibliographic citations. The committee, NISO SCTT, will define the content and format of publisher, data preparer, copyright, abstract, and bibliographic file identifiers. The committee also will consider standards for data elements on disk labels and packaging. The standards will expand on the International Standards Organization's 9660 volume and File Structure Standard, which formalized byte requirements and disk addresses for bibliographic elements. The standard is more commonly known as the "High Sierra' format.
The professional literature reports a high level of enthusiasm among patrons, but mixed feelings on the part of staff. The users like the power of computer-based searching without the costs associated with online searching. Those who have had experience with BRS After Dark, the on-line service most often made available to end users, consider CD-ROM searching to be much easier. This is in large part attributable to the superior user interface that working in a PC environment has made possible. The biggest impact of CD-ROM publications has been the degree to which undergraduate students and the general public have gained access to computer-based searching--something generally available only to researchers in the past few years. The major frustration of staff members has been the amount of time necessary to deal with scores of inexperienced searchers each day.
The price of CD-ROM drives continue to be stable, with $700 to $1,000 typical, but CD-ROM mastering costs have dropped almost from quarter to quarter, with the latest cost for making a master now as low as $1,500, and replicating 100 copies down to $2,000. Almost all CD-ROM drives and software assume the use of IBM-PC compatible equipment. The Mac market is relatively new. There are only a few dozen CD-ROM products for the Mac, most of them related to desktop publishing.