Sole-Source Vendors and You

We met the sales team from PrivCo. last Friday. Nice guys, but there’s a potential problem with their product: PrivCo. is a sole-source vendor.

A sole-source vendor is essentially what it sounds like. The vendor is your only known source of the material being offered. In PrivCo.’s case, it’s database information regarding the internal workings of private companies, venture capital firms, and other financial entities.

It’s a neat database. I won’t give a full review here (you can find a top-notch review from Library Journal here), but I will say that we found the package easy to navigate, highly responsive to search tweaking, and possessed of very handy export features.  Trial subscriptions are not insanely priced, either. It looks like a good deal.

But Sole Source vendors can be tricky to work with. It’s not exactly the same situation as the one that Meredith Farkas blogged about a week or so ago. In her observations, she described a situation where a library goes with a vendor to gain access to a particular journal (or set of journals) even though doing so makes less than obvious financial sense. A Sole Source vendor pulls a switch and you have access . . . or they pull another switch, and you’re out again. Since they are the only source of the stuff you need, they can dictate whatever subscription terms they like, and if you want access, you’re kind of stuck. When I worked at an electronic components broker years ago, I worked with government purchasing agents. They were very up front about their bidding rules: if you were a sole source vendor, and identified your company as such, you automatically won the bid for the part.

Additionally (in this case), there’s another question to raise: private companies by definition don’t file the same reports with the SEC as public entities must. All the information that’s being extracted by PrivCo. is reported by their research staff, and while we met the sales guys, we didn’t meet the researchers. I would have liked to ask them what their rules of conduct were, what the penalties for false (or just sloppy) reporting were, what their histories were, what their relationship with their target firms are like, etc. Where does this information come from?

In all fairness we’ll probably get a trial subscription to PrivCo. It’s too useful not to have as a compliment to Business and Company Resource Center and we all had positive reactions to their user interface and product demo. But sometimes you just want the choice to go with a competitor.

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  1. I found PrivCo to be immensely useful, and accurate. Two thumbs up is all I can say from my year now of experience using it as a business research librarian. Couldn’t endorse it more. (And yes for public institutions I do hear the “sole source” issue, but found that as long as you make the case it’s sole source – this one was pretty easy and took 2 paragraphs – it gets approved just fine). Agree it’s too useful not to have. And love your blog, keep up the great work Jon.

    - Business Librarian

    • Jonathan Frater says:

      That’s good to hear. After debating it among ourselves we finally decided to go with a 1 year trial subscription.