International Business Machines Corp. is testing an Internet-based clipping service that it says would reduce user costs and ensure publishers of payment - with banks clearing the on-line transactions.
Under IBM's Infomarket system, Internet users would set up a data base search from their personal computers but pay only for the articles they want. These would be encrypted to protect the publishers against uncompensated use.
Users would not be charged for the time elapsed during data-base searches, the way Reed Elsevier's Nexis service does.
Unlike existing systems that handle only search and retrieval functions, IBM's product is meant to ensure that publishers get paid instantly for their materials and that their copyrights and royalties rules are observed.
Infomarket - an example of the type of businesses electronic commerce can make possible - would involve banks as payments processors.
Publishers of newspapers, journals, and other periodicals have been stepping tentatively onto the Internet, mindful that there is no efficient way to receive micropayments on-line and fearful of freely distributing valuable editorial content.
"My mantra is: get found, get paid, get protected," said Jeffrey Crigler, the IBM vice president who masterminded the Infomarket project.
"We're going to make it easy for a lot of people who aren't selling stuff on the Web today to do so," said Craig Moore, an IBM systems manager who has developed some of the Infomarket's technology.
Mr. Moore said that banks would be central to the Infomarket's payment system.
"These merchants and customers are going to be using banking services - (automated clearing house) and credit cards and all the payment systems," he said.
Using IBM's system, which Mr. Crigler said would be up and running in May, publishers could sell individual articles to Internet users and be paid by the line or by the piece.
IBM's technology - which the company calls its "Internet commerce enablement platform" - would scramble the article and seal it in a "cryptolope," or cryptographic envelope, that could be opened only by the customer who purchased it.
The price of the materials would be carried on top of the cryptolope, and an itemized billing record would be kept for each customer.
"The point is we're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Crigler said. "We're using the existing banking and billing infrastructure, we're just connecting it to the (World Wide) Web."
Mr. Crigler said IBM's technology could be used in other commercial areas, since its capabilities were not limited to editorial content. "It's also a generalized system for doing payments and purchases," he said.
Mr. Moore added that IBM's system is intended to jump-start electronic commerce. "Banks are going to find that they're doing a lot more electronic business and that more of their services are coming into play," he said.
A pilot of Infomarket is now being tested at www.infomkt.ibm.com. Internet users who visit the test site and register with IBM can search nine data bases, download the search findings, and print them. For now, the service is free.
David E. Weisman, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said the Infomarket "highlights a whole new intermediary on the Internet called an Internet transaction broker."