GEnie’s new on-line fee: $4.95 a month – General Electric Network for Information Exchange – Telecomputing
GEnie–General Electric Network for Information Exchange–is General Electric’s answer to H&R Block’s CompuServe and the IBM/Sears Prodigy system. The on-line system went live in October 1985 and has grown steadily. Yet, at 210,000 subscribers, GEnie is only one-third the size of CompuServe (625,000) and less than half the size of two-year-old Prodigy (465,000). Now that Prodigy is available nationwide (it was available only in limited markets until last September), it should sign up subscribers even more rapidly. To help close the gap on its rivals, GEnie has introduced a new-flat-rate pricing structure called Star Services.
WHAT YOU GET
For a flat fee of $4.95 per month, GEnie now offers unlimited nonprime-time use of more than 100 of its products and services, including Grolier’s Academic American Encyclopedia, GEnie’s electronic-mail system (GE Mail), the EAASY SABRE airline and travel reservation and information service, CINEMAN movie reviews, Hollywood Hotline, soap opera summaries, news, weather, and sports.
Shopping at GEnie’s on-line mall and GEnie’s subscriber-placed classified-advertising service are included. So, too, are classic games like Adventure, Black Dragon, and Castle Quest.
Finally, you can read the bulletin board/message-exchange sections of all of GEnie’s noncomputer-related special-interest groups for the $4.95 monthly fee. On GEnie, special-interest groups are called RoundTables, or RTs. Equivalent to CompuServe’s Forums, they cover subjects such as scuba diving, photography, writing, genealogy, medicine, religion, and law. And there’s a RoundTable called the Home Office/Small Business RT.
WHAT YOU DON’T GET
Connect-time charges still apply to some of GEnie’s features. The nonprime-time rate, regardless of your modem’s speed (300, 1200, 2400 bps), is $6 an hour. Nonprime time includes the hours between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. (your local time) on weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays. The prime-time rate is $18 an hour.
Uploads on GEnie remain free of charge, but the $6 per hour nonprime-time rate does apply when you are searching a RoundTable library or downloading a file. Connect-time charges also apply to GEnie’s LiveWire chat service, to its multiplayer games, and to all sections of its many computer-related RoundTables. Nonetheless, $6 an hour is half of what archrival CompuServe charges for nonprime-time use.
There is no sign-up fee for GEnie, and no special software is required. After trying the system for a month, you can get your $4.95 back if you are not satisfied. The system is available throughout the United States and Canada and can be accessed in Japan, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. For more information, you call GEnie at (800) 638-9636 from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, Eastern time, Monday through Friday, and from noon to 8:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Flat-rate pricing is not a new concept in the on-line world. Prodigy, for instance, charges a flat rate of $12.95 per month; if you pay in advance for an entire year, the rate is reduced to $9.95 a month. And, while many users find Prodigy’s graphic-based system much easier to use than GEnie’s command-driven interface, Prodigy is much slower, includes advertising messages at the bottom of many screens, and doesn’t allow downloading of files.
On a strict pricing basis, the real difference in GEnie’s Star Services is that a flat rate has never been so low. The Academic American Encyclopedia alone is worth $4.95 a month to many users; Grolier used to charge $7.50 a month in addition to connect-time charges. Under the Star Services plan, so many of the system’s offerings are available for unlimited use it is entirely realistic to expect to keep your on-line costs to $4.95 per month–unless, of course, you want to access computer-related message boards.
On the other hand, competing systems are certain to retaliate, if they haven’t already. With H&R Block, IBM, Sears, and General Electric in the ring and McGraw-Hill’s BIX system waiting on the sidelines, the battle for on-line customers is being waged by titans–not by the entrepreneurs who established this branch of the industry. The results are likely to be lower costs and improved services for all.
Contributing editor ALFRED GLOSSBRENNER, author of The Complete Handbook of Personal Computer Communications, was in the midst of writing Glossbrenner’s Master Guide to GEnie (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1990) when the Star Services program was announced.
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