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IBM and Merrill Lynch & Co, as reported briefly Friday, have decided to call it a day on their troubled International MarketNet share prices and services venture for brokers. Coming after the failure of Satellite Business Systems, the withdrawal from the Trintex viewdata venture of CBS, the collapse of the DiscoVision videodisk venture with MCA and Pioneer and the unhappy state of IBM’s Rolm acquisition, the announcement leaves IBM’s diversification-by-joint-venture strategy in complete disarray. International MarketNet will close with a mere 50 out of a potential 10,000 users with Merrill Lynch, plus another 50 at other firms, and suffered a string of delays and setbacks almost from its inception. Originally intended to deliver financial information to brokers’ desks via the expensive 3270 Personal Computer, and to couple it with advanced software to manipulate the data. A key problem was that when it comes to powerful, easy-to-use Personal Computer software, IBM has an apalling record, with all the widely-used products having been developed by third parties led by Lotus Development Corp and Ashton-Tate Inc. After about a year, the plan to use the 3270 Personal Computer was dropped and the delivery vehicle was changed to a standard Personal, but, as with a string of similar IBM software development ventures, notably the Bildschirmtext viewdata system in Germany, the project became mired in snags, delays and cost overruns, and after over two years’ work, the system was still not ready. The other problem was that broking houses were unhappy at the idea of buying financial services from a competitor, although that problem had been alleviated by the fact that CitiCorp now owns the market leader, Quotron Systems, so that if brokers wanted access to either of two of the leading available systems they would have had to buy the services from a major competitor.

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