DIGITAL DOUG: Online Investing

FreeEDGAR Gets Less and Less Free


When FreeEDGAR first arrived on the Web, the firm shook up the traditional rules of access to company financial information. When the SEC launched its electronic filing project, EDGAR, in 1994, reports were embargoed for 24 hours after they were uploaded to the SEC's servers and not made immediately available to the public. This delay was not to allow the SEC to review the filings before releasing them, however. The SEC sold real-time data feeds for a hefty six-figure subscription fee, generally to firms like Disclosure and Federal Filings, who in turn sold subscriptions to real-time access to Wall Street clientele. This was one example of how the Web did not truly level the playing field between institutional and individual investors.

FreeEDGAR wanted to draw attention to their suite of company analysis and data mining tools, so the company purchased a real-time data feed from the SEC, and then proceeded to give away that data online -- for free. Needless to say, the company ruffled a few feathers among its competitors (and ultimately contributed to a fall in the price of an annual data feed from the SEC). In addition to offering free real-time access, also offered an email watch list service to alert investors when a company had made an SEC filing, an Excel download service to allow users to save the financial tables from any filing in a spreadsheet, and formatted filings in Rich Text Format (RTF).

In 2000, FreeEDGAR was purchased by EDGAR Online, a leading provider of EDGAR data. Soon, the "free" part of began to disappear. Users of the email alert service were limited to just five companies -- any more than that, and a subscription at EDGAR Online was required.

In May 2001, free watch list alerts were eliminated entirely, as well as the Excel and RTF downloads. With the discontinuation of this service, FreeEDGAR has become only a marginally useful site. The good news is that investors can access some features similar to those formerly offered at FreeEDGAR at EDGAR Scan and 10K Wizard.

EDGAR Online purchased a competitor and then removed features that cannibalized the subscription services on its own site. Like many sites on the web, FreeEDGAR was good while it lasted, but the good days are over.

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