The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
13(1) 1997

Issue 13(1) of The Information Society (TIS) focuses on electronic commerce. Before describing the issue, I am pleased to welcome two strong scholars to TIS' editorial board: Dr. James Katz of Bellcore and Professor George Trubow of the John Marshall Law School. In addit ion, Ms. Anna Martinson and Ms. Dorothy Day have become TIS' book review editors. I appreciate the help of TIS' previous book review editors, Mr. Wayne Lutters and Dr. Lisa Covi in significantly increasing the number of books that we review each year tenfold! As part of TIS' move with me to Indiana University, Ms. Carolyn Cheung has retired from TIS after doing a superb job as managing edi tor and Mr. Kevin Bishop is now playing that role here. 

Professor Rolf Wigand of Syracuse University organized this special electronic commerce issue of TIS. The issue opens with Rolf's overview of electronic commerce in "Electronic Commerce: Definition, Theory, and Context." He n otes the way that electronic commerce is used to refer to many different aspects of sales, marketing, and related business activities. He defines electronic commerce in terms of the ways that information and communication technologies support the complete value chain of an organization -- from the creation of a good or service through its sale. he goes on to analyze electronic commerce in terms of five theoretical conceptual approaches, from transaction cost theory in economics to the strategic creation o f organizational networks. These five theoretical approaches undergird the debates I the field and the articles in this TIS issue. 

Linda Garcia examines certain public policy issues of electronic commerce in "Networked Commerce." She defines electronic commerce in terms of the use of IT to reduce transaction costs or to gain strategic advantage -- a conception that differs a bit from Wigand's. Garcia is specially sensitive to the various ways that people and organizations can face relatively high transaction costs such as in learning new skills to do business or finding reliable access in rural areas. She also notes that while access to the Internet broadens to tens of millions of people, the scarce resource becomes "visibility" for sellers and o thers who want attention. This concern becomes the basis for an interesting non-egalitarian scenario and a policy concern that certain kinds of competition can diminish the value of the Internet in supporting electronic commerce. In particular, she is critical of competition through competing communication standards that can close off who sections of the Internet to some participants. This kind of standards competition - now seen in battles over standards for high speed modems -- differs from competition on criteria that enable broader access -- such as on the price, reliability, or convenience of a communications service or technology. 

In the US, electronic commerce is becoming identified with business on the Internet. Richard Hill broadens this view by examining the character of electronic commerce in different communication media -- the WWW, the French Minitel and Electronic data Exchange. These media differ in the nature of mix of important services, and also in social characteristics -- such as the nature of the contracts between buyers and sellers and regulations about the nature of a transaction. Hill's paper helps us better conceptualize more diverse possibilities of electronic commerce that go beyond contemporary Internet-centered conventions. 

Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak further examine alternative conceptions of electronic commerce in "A New Marketing Paradigm for Electronic Commerce." Their paper develop the idea of a "marketing concept" to help characterize alternatives to conceptualizin g marketing communications between an organizations and its clients or patrons in one-to-many broadcast terms. They provide rich examples of marketing approaches that make better use of symmetrical electronic communications -- allowing potential buyers to test products, to talk with sellers, and even for buyers to advertise on par with sellers. 

Pat Auger and John Gallaugher follow with an empirical study, "Factors Affecting the Adoption of an Internet-based Sales Presence for Small Business". They surveyed about 350 firms that had established sites on a WWW shopping mall to learn how owners and managers conceptualized the advantages of electronic commerce. One of their intriguing findings is that perceptions of the Internet as a medium of cheap advertising was a dominant concern, while reducing transaction costs was a fourth-order consideration. This study raises questions about theories of electronic commerce that locate reduced service costs as one of the central driving issues. 

Jonathan Palmer's empirical study of shopping across retail formats including the WWW, in-store visits, mail order catalogs and television is reported in "Electronic Commerce in Retailing." Palmer examines these four channels for differences in pricing, shopping time, ability to understand the product, etc. He reports that the WWW and television require more time for a purchase decision than either in-store shopping or mail order catalogs. Palmer's results contradict important cultural models of in-store shopping and WWW shopping, and also raise serious questions about the transactions costs for consumers in WWW shoppin g. This study raise serious questions about the rate of adoption of WWW shopping if consumer search time (and costs) are higher than through traditional formats. Conversely, if electronic shopping grows rapidly, this data raise questions about the role of transaction costs in people's choice of shopping formats. 

Nabil Kamel, Murali Mohan and Kranti Toraskar examine the psychological dimensions of information flows as well as their economic dimensions in their modeling study, "An Approach to the Value-based Modeling of Information Flows." They model multiparty commercial transactions, and characterizeinformational flows in terms such as their fairness and the monopoly market structure. 

Arnold Picot, Christine Bortenlanger and Heiner Rohrl's "The Organization of Electronic Markets," concluded the electronic commerce section with a theoretical inquiry based on the new institutional economics. They show how this branch of economic analysis offers three theoretical approaches that shed light on markets organized around electronic commerce -- transaction-cost theory, principle-agent theory, and property-rights theory. The y make the traditional argument that reduced transaction costs will lead to electronic markets; but they also argue that such markets will not be completely transparent for participants because of property rights. Their paper is a provocative examination of the market structures, buyer-seller relations and stratgeies for deal making under electronic commerce arrangements. 

The last research article in TIS 13(1), Erran Carmel's "American Software Hegemony," is not about electronic commerce, but about commerce in electronics. He sysematically examines different explanations for the US dominance of the global market in packaged software. Carmel advances the idea that US superiority rests on a "culture of software" that rests on individualism in software exploration, entrepreneurialsim, and an innovation-driven development environment. He carefully contrasts software development in Western Europe and Japan with the US in advancing his cultural interpretation of the global patterns of software markets. 

TIS 13(1) concludes with Rob Kling's review of Public Access to the Internet edited by Brian Kahin and James Keller. This collection examines the meanings of the public having access to the Internet for a variety of purposes that go well beyond electronic commerce, including entertainment, telecommuting, education, and participating in the social life of their communities. But the book is also keenly relevant to people who are interested in electronic commerce. 

TIS 13(2) will be a special issue on privacy issues and electronic media in Canada, edited by Jeffrey Shallit of the University of Waterloo. TIS 13(3) will be a special issue edited by Magid Igbaria on Virtual Societies: The Prospects and Dilemmas of Scaling Up Life On-Line. Please check our web site for news on forthcoming issues and calls for papers. We are also hoping to create a searchable index of TIS abstracts by the Summer, 1997. 

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