Datasets are not books

Some international organisations keep selling public datasets as if they were books. This bad habit is a relic from the time when copying data was expensive. OECD still have a list of public datasets for sale. One item is especially absurd to keep selling. It’s the International Trade by Commodity Statistics Database, available at €530 for a subscription. This is the collection of all prices and quantities of international trade. The hard work of collecting this massive dataset is not payed for by OECD directly. 99.9% of the cost is covered by tax payers through public customs-registration in each country. The OECD price-tag is only to cover the final harmonization of data reported from various countries.

Why is the selling of this data especially absurd? Read about OECD: “The common thread of our work is a shared commitment to market economies…”. Not only is the selling of public data a misuse of a monopoly position, but the selling of price-data in particular goes against the core theory of Market Economy. A market is assumed to operate smoothly when participants have full and free access to information about prices. The OECD leadership need to remind themselves about what they believe in. They need to go home, pick up the their old textbook from school and read chapter one again. The World Bank did it. Eurostat is already providing monthly trade statistics for EU in huge free bulk files to be integrated in any tool or service.

The cost of providing important public data needs to be covered by the OECD core budget instead of trying to recover revenue by pretending datasets are books.

Ola Rosling


Date Posted: 2011-05-27