As I write this, we're putting the final touches on a new research report called Database Subscription Pricing Benchmarks, based on InfoCommerce Group's Subscription Price Index database. The SPI database allows us to examine how the marketplace has changed between 2000 and 2004, and that change is fascinating.

What's particularly noteworthy is the shift in attitudes in just four years. In 2000, publishers were being relentlessly pressured by a marketplace that honestly believed it could find anything it needed on the Web for free. With so many ill-fated Web start-ups, along with a lot of established publishers, indeed offering their content for free, the move toward a world of free content seemed inexorable. Needless to say, it wasn't a happy time for subscription-based publishers.

Those that continued to charge for their content were certainly in no position to seek premiums for their Web offerings, and the trend at the time was towards "parity pricing," with print and Web versions priced identically. Indeed, many publishers were having such difficulty with their sales that the idea of the bundled offering -- buy the print version, get the Web version for free -- became a marketing staple. This bundled offering neatly sums up the thinking at the time: I can't charge for my Web content, but I can give it away in order to spur sales of my print version, which is tangible and still has value.

But look at where we are now. By the end of 2004, the situation had flipped: publishers still market the bundled offering, but now it is buy the online version and get the print version for free. No difference in economics, but a huge difference in perception. Publishers have realized that the market is moving to the Web, so they are increasingly putting the emphasis on their online products. Even more importantly, people are increasingly willing to pay for Web-based information.

This change has reflected itself in pricing. Publishers are moving away from parity pricing to charging significantly more for their Web products, reflecting their inherently higher value. With solid evidence now that users both want Web products and are willing to pay for them, we're seeing more and more publishers starting to invest in their Web products, adding new features, functionality and content, which allows them to charge even more. It's a new virtuous circle: users are willing to pay more for higher quality Web products, spurring publishers to keep rolling out ever more sophisticated and powerful products. But while we stand at the threshold of a new golden age in database publishing, many would say it's been a long four years.