Friday, April 30, 2004

Google Semi-Public Offering: Maximizing Cash and Cultural Change Potential

Well, you can't say that Google doesn't stick to their guns. The New York Times reports along with the world on the details of Google's S-1 registration statement for their initial public stock offering. Public shares will be a small portion of Google's voting share structure and the owners make it clear that although they'll play by the rules they are not playing the game. Quarterly earnings fluctuations? Think long-term, please. And your long-term goal? "Don't be evil," they opine. It's refreshing stuff from a company that stands to have a valuation nearly as large as Yahoo!'s right out of the blocks, even if somewhat disdainful of true public ownership. But what does it mean to the content industry? It means that there is at least one vContent company that's situated to make the tough decisions that may change the nature of how content value is determined and recognized - regardless as to whether content companies are ready to play their game or not. It also means that they're willing to make some major mistakes along the way to achieving that goal - which may or may not please their content partners. As noted in our weblog on the Buying and Selling eContent Conference there are many publishers and distributor of premium content that see working with Google as "dancing with the devil." Who is truly evil in this scenario? The good is in the doing as much as in the being, so we will have to see just how well all parties in this complex equation play along with one another.

One thing is for sure, though: with accountability comes humility, whether the accountable like it or not. Google has signed on for some extremely lofty goals that promise humanness as they try to change the face of how human understanding is formed. The IPO will give Google some immediate cash to counter more aggressive competition that's beginning to zero in on their basic value equation and an invested public interest that can act as a semi-empowered cheerleader for their efforts. Google hopes to minimize the pressure from their cheerleaders while trying to educate them, but as anyone who goes to a sporting event well knows, cheerleaders can turn on you when you least expect it. With numerous new product initiatives required for a more comprehensive competitive stance still in the formative stages there is a lot that can go wrong in trying to assemble their vision. Good luck with the IPO, Google; remember what you said in the S-1 as the times get rough.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

InfoUSA to Acquire OneSource in Tender Offer: Dun & Bradstreet Acquires Deeper Competition. Shore Speaks With Martin Kahn.

Leading marketing information provider InfoUSA, Inc. today announced the pending acquisition of business information provider OneSource Information Services, Inc. in a tender offer for their stock priced at $8.85 a share, about 8.5 percent above ValueAct's offer to take OneSource private in February. The acquisition has some minor hooks that may require further board approval for the takeover, but all in all this looks as if it will be a clean acquisition. OneSource has been a solidly profitable business, but had been searching for new ways to take their business beyond its relatively deep penetration into sales support and marketing operations and business intelligence units into broader markets, and that may yet happen under InfoUSA's tutelage. Shore Senior Analyst Jean Bedord notes that InfoUSA has acquired about twenty companies since 1996 as economies of scale continue to drive margins down - including InfoUSA's, where profits fell 36 percent in Q12004 versus the same period last year with heavy investments in marketing hitting the top line but not yet the bottom line.

The acquisition is reminiscent of Dun & Bradstreet's acquisition of online business information provider Hoover's, Inc. last year - a large database company acquires a smaller player with greater user penetration and integration focus - but with some important differences. InfoUSA supports direct marketing campaigns with a broad and deep database of business and consumer directory products, vertical industry databases, online mailing lists, marketing leads and retail consumer products. Through its Donnelley Group - most likely to benefit from or to absorb OneSource - InfoUSA offers a wide array of content integration support tools, data enhancement and file cleansing services, to supply external content and improve client content for major corporations. The likely scenario is that InfoUSA will take advantage of OneSource's strong business indexing and taxonomy schemes, wide base of business information sources and deep penetration into the top-tier corporate markets to present a challenge to Dun & Bradstreet across the full breadth of business information products.

A conversation with OneSource Interim CEO Martin Kahn this afternoon confirmed the outlines of this deal, which he sees as "a very good fit" for all concerned. OneSource's focus on major corporate sales and a higher level of business information integration from dozens of premium sources certainly gives InfoUSA a fine capstone of market opportunities that would have been difficult to penetrate with their own market profile and resources. Martin confirmed that both the management teams and production teams at OneSource will remain in place, with only Martin moving on for the moment as he has now completed his duty of shepherding OneSource into the hands of an appropriate business partner. He also indicated that InfoUSA was keen to acquire OneSource's management team as a part of the deal, which certainly has a broad and sophisticated global focus that will assist InfoUSA in putting together the sales and marketing profile necessary to take on Dun & Bradstreet across a range of market opportunities. "The way I see it there will be two major players [in business and marketing information services] moving forward - InfoUSA with OneSource and D&B with Hoover's," Martin said.

A good deal? We at Shore think so. It gives D&B a sorely-needed run for the money and places their Hoover's division on notice that consumer-savvy online content sales are now part of the combined InfoUSA/OneSource portfolio. Shore Senior Analyst Janice McCallum adds, "The potential for OneSource to move into the internal company database coding space that D&B dominates is amplified by this move. I think it's a good move by InfoUSA, who needs to find a way to play a role outside of the commodity data business at this point. It looks as though InfoUSA wants to crack the top tier of 'national accounts' and sees OneSource, which sells to large accounts, as helpful in their quest. They have been very strategic in their acquisitions in the past and the acquisitions have generally worked out well--either in expanding their data sources, improving quality of data by adding verified source data, buying quality brands (like Donnelley) with established customer bases, or buying up smaller competitors. It's likely that InfoUSA also sees OneSource as helping it enhance its position with CRM technology vendors like Siebel. And, OneSource's content integration experience--especially integrating news and other Web-sources with company information--will be a big plus to InfoUSA."

The clash of cultures from two companies targeting very different spectrums of the marketplace may yet prove to make this a tricky marriage, but all things being equal, this is a major vContent play for the business information marketplace that promises to hold out great value in the months ahead.

For advisory services on a follow-up basis to this important announcement, please consider our Private Advisory Services to gain further insights from our team members.

NEWS ALERT: InfoUSA Posts Tender for OneSource

Details in Weblog to follow, for now the BusinessWire Press Release.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Buying and Selling eContent Conference: Dancing Without the Devil

InformationToday's Buying and Selling eContent Conference at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona lived up to its billing in most ways this year, with little meaningless bravado about the direction of the content industry and plenty of seasoned insights into where valued content is headed in the months ahead. This is not to say that there weren't people with vision: keynoter Louis Borders, CEO of KeepMedia, laid out a compelling vision of what tomorrow's "walled garden" of content ecommerce may look like in the not-so-distant future to kick off the event and there were plenty of speakers and participants who did not hesitate to point out the direction of how value will be produced in the industry moving ahead. But unlike years past there were few overhyped voices spelling out how people had better "get it" (or else), and many voices saying in effect, "We think we get it, we think that we're moving in the right direction, and we're doing what we need to do to meet the future." Most seemed to be happy enough to buy in to one of the themes laid out by Outsell’s Anthea Stratigos: "Have fun!"

But if the 5.6 percent growth in the content industry forecasted for 2004 in Anthea's presentation can be called fun then we're all in need of a little more time in the spa at Camelback. While a few vendors in attendance such as Yahoo! could boast about significant revenue gains, most of the traditional top names in attendance are barely treading water and many of them face significant challenges from strengthening new high-growth forces in the industry that they must either confront or join in collaborative efforts. In pondering the theoretical distribution of premium content via Google Corilee Christou, VP of Licensing for Reed Business Information coined a phrase used oftentimes during the conference, "Do we dance with the devil?" That seemed to sum up much of the undercurrent of angst enveloping major publishers and aggregators in attendance. Major search engines, consumer Web portals, open access to peer-reviewed journals and XML-based weblog syndication streams were but a few of the major hobgoblins that seemed to be daunting forces for many players. But for the most part attendees seemed to be content to dance with partners in attendance, and wait for the devil to take his due at some other time. Perhaps sooner than most would like...
[NOTE TO FEED SUBSCRIBERS: I will be backdatating subsequent entries on this topic to allow for "top-down" reading on our Web site. My apologies if this is a little confusing at first...]

Buying and Selling eContent: In Search of Online Retail Perfection

As noted in our earlier News Analysis, KeepMedia has been evolving a sophisticated, customer-focused retail model for premium content distribution over the past several months, applying many of the lessons learned in Louis Borders' years as a bookstore retailer to create a "content concierge" environment complete with online and emailed recommendations of content that would complement a reader's expressed interests. Louis laid out an excellent analysis in his keynote address on what's required to create an outlet for content consumers that brings the best of "bricks" retailing concepts to the "clicks" of an online content service. His demo of upcoming features for KeepMedia included a user-defined music channel that plays when visiting their site (in-store music!), video ads that play only on demand and can be forwarded to friends in email and other community-oriented niceties. Also expect more multimedia/interactive content, localization and more premium add-on items so that the basic MediaPass subscription package remains affordable. "A company is a value network" Borders noted in his presentation, noting the successes - and failures - of many major companies that either adhered to or ignored this maxim. KeepMedia is pushing to build a sophisticated value network within the confines of a "walled garden" of premium content. But as noted in Jean Bedord's report on the eBooks marketplace, walled gardens are hard enough to maintain for premium content in the physical world - wireless allows eBooks to come to the local coffee store more easily than going to the bookstore for coffee, for example. Getting the context of a sophisticated content consuming experience right is going to be as important for KeepMedia as getting magazine publishers to become more cooperative in providing deeper, timelier and richer context outside of their own "walled gardens." In the meantime, KeepMedia seems to be content with a "go slow" approach that will allow them to build a successful formula over time.

Buying and Selling eContent: The Buy-Side/Sell-Side Dance Continues to New Beats

Timothy King, SVP for Planning and Development for John Wiley and Sons, Inc. and Paula Galbraith of Library and Information Services at Solutia, Inc. combined to discuss today's "ins and outs" for institutional content purchasers. From Timothy King's perspective, much of the challenge for a publisher of a wide range of scientific, technical, and medical books and journals for professional education and consumer markets is to find the right range of business models to reach a range of marketplaces in which consumption patterns are changing rapidly. As with many other premium publishers Wiley sees the success of ad-supported sites targeted towards individuals and the increasing prevalence of federated search engines and knowledge management initiatives at the institutional level as indicators that new kinds of delivery and partnerships will be prevailing to get content to users in the right contexts. Preserving the integrity of a cherished print brand while pushing more high-value content such as rich media will be challenging in this environment and partnerships and alliances are certainly necessary to ensure a solid future for that brand. From the institutional purchaser's side, Paula Galbraith painted a picture of intensified challenges for a company that has recently passed into Chapter 11, which changed her focus 'radically' overnight. Content purchasing deals finalized last fall had relevance that was rendered moot by January, placing only additional pressure on her to explain why the typically arcane formulas of aggregators and publishers to ensure revenues based on total headcounts were to the company's benefit. Both sides of this equation paint a picture of institutional purchasing requirements that increasingly disfavor mass-scale, long-term purchases which may not reflect ongoing needs effectively. The focus of businesses and researchers today can change radically overnight for any number of reasons, leaving a core of content that's a given but a much wider range of content which finds its value only in very specific and context-driven usage situtations. All of this points to more models for distribution and purchasing, more credit-card purchases billed any number of ways on an internal basis and more flexible ways to combine enterprise search capabilities with ecommerce that will not hinder the ability to locate the right content at the right time - regardless of whether rights to it are owned at a particular point in time. The buy-side/sell-side dance goes on, but with a lot of new steps coming in to play.

Buying and Selling eContent: Dynamic Duos of Collaboration with Aggregators and the Buy Side - and Publishers on the Sidelines

Aggregators are discovering more than ever the importance of working collaboratively with clients to solve in-context content issues, as exemplified by the conference's panel on close teamwork between the institutional buy side and sell side. Lucy Lettis, SVP and Director of Business Intelligence for Marsh USA, Inc. relayed how when she came to this leading risk and insurance services firm she threw a challenge to business information services specialist OneSource to roll out a business information solution tighly integrated into Marsh's internal portal. With glove-close design, implementation and training along with leveraging OneSource's key strengths - while not trying to replace the strengths of other suppliers such as Factiva - the result was a highly successful implementation. Key to the close cooperation what having OneSource providing data via detailed usage reports via registrant-based usage tracking. Susan Adinolfi, Director of Library Services at Merrill Lynch, presented a dual partnership with Alacra and LexisNexis. Alacra has worked extensively with Merrill to develop "Public Information Books" (PIBs), briefings on targeted companies that are pulled together from a wide range of content sources for various kinds of strategy-setting sessions by Susan's unit to support Merrill decision makers. Before Alacra's involvement, putting together such key documents could take the better part of a day for just one PIB, but Alacra pulls them together from LexisNexis and other sources into a single PDF-based document with just a few clicks, cutting the effort down to just a few minutes of effort by Susan's staff and incuding billback info so that content costs can be allocated appropriately to revenue and cost centers. Steve Goldstein, President and CEO of Alacra, gave a demo of this PIB-building capability that seemed to have impressed many.

Tracking usage info for publishers via these kinds of close aggregator relationships proved to be one of the key points at the conference. In the Q&A portion of this panel Andrea Broadbent, Director of Corporate Licensing for the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. raised the pivotal issue: would aggregators be willing to provide this usage information to the publishers who feed content to the aggregators? While there was a general nod in this direction from Andrew Hughes, Vice President for Content at OneSource and Elizabeth Rector, SVP for Enterprise and Library Markets at LexisNexis, the question was left largely unanswered by both these aggregators and others at the conference. The plus of these tight integration relationships is that aggregators provide a high level of value to their clients: the minus is that publishers are beginning to realize just how much more isolated they are from their ultimate users in these close relationships. As today's aggregators begin to look more and more like software integration houses, the stage is being set for publishers to reconsider their business relationships with aggregators and to seek the widest range of distribution channels that can ensure both premium content profits and a more intimate relationship with the people who value their publications.

Buying and Selling eContent: Licenses to Dance in More Ways than Ever

A panel discussing the evolving models for licensing and rights management for publishers highlighted the expanding variety of approaches to monetizing content that are blending the experiences of consumer ecommerce with institutional sales. Corilee Christou, VP of Licensing for Reed Business Information, noted that "bigger isn't always better" in her world of controlled circulatoin publications, where major outlets such as Variety play alongside lucrative but niche-oriented trade titles. For all of these a wide variety of old and new revenue models abound: syndication feeds, royalites from host usage, percentages on transactions triggered by ad click-throughs, as well as new subscription-based sites and pricing content by the article and by site fees. Even in this fairly stable universe of business content, though, Corilee is aware of the growing influence of search engines superceding Web sites as destinations. Scott Kinney, EVP for Licensing for CBS MarketWatch, has seen MarketWatch evolved from a destination "dot com" site to a company that targets many professional investors via direct feeds and feeds via distribution partners such as Thomson FInancial, which is tripling MarketWatch's editorial output for its own use. Feed and other non-ad forms of licensing have allowed MarketWatch to lower ads to a third of its overall revenues, providing a strong profile for future growth in both institutional and consumer markets. Ken Kirkley, Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing at ProQuest, takes the approach of doing distribution deals with just about anyone - "ProQuest is Switzerland," Corilee offered - but still hesitates on search engine distribution via Google and others without a strong buy-in from their huge stable of news and professional content suppliers. This problem of buy-in is likely to be a rubbing point for many aggregators, who are likely to see individual companies ready to make the search engine leap on their own peeling off the value of aggregators' base of titles bit by bit - cannibalization from within, if you will. Craig McKinnis, Strategic Content Partnership Manager for UPI, has "nothing to cannibalize" when it comes to approaching the marketplace with their own licensed news feeds, but is trying to rein in resdistributors that fail to keep UPI abreast of how their content is being used. As UPI starts to take on third party content using their facilities for redistribution and fine-tune their management of third parties, this situation is likely to improve.

Original content producers who are largely still in control of their own distribution have a lot to gain from new distribution and licensing models as the search engine era moves forward. There's clearly still a role for infomediaries in this new landscape, but licensing is going to have to accomodate original content producers' desire to be in touch with their end users far more effectively for these infomediaries to survive. See our upcoming report on The New Aggregation for more details.

Buying and Selling eContent: New Business Models and Packaging Flourishing - But do They Meet Buyer Needs?

Getting beyond "the container" as the content product - be it a feed, a magazine, a book, a Web site - was a key theme for this year's Buying and Selling eContent conference and the panel that focused on business models and packaging understood this at least as well as anyone in attendance. "The Internet is the TV of the workplace," noted Elisabeth DeMarse, President and CEO of Bankrate, Inc., under whose leadership Bankrate evolved from a dot-com casualty to a healthy, $37 million company providing a portfilio of financial information and services portals. Having survived the era of "burn rates" and other irrational high-stakes approaches to profitability, DeMarse guides Bankrate towards low-risk, high-profit incremental investments to limit outlays that can bring in new revenues from its receptive but demanding audiences. This means repackaging content in whatever form and format makes sense in a "create once, use many" model that can see content appearing in anything from a Bloomberg-like interface to more tech-oriented raw interfaces. For Forrester Research, the challenge is packaging a service that had been sold as a monolithic, report-intensive research and advisory product for a new generation of users used to finding information easily on the open Web and services such as LexisNexis and offering a wide variety of models that will appeal to both individuals and institutions. Brian Kardon, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer for Forrester, uses a mix of free & fee content, subscription and transaction purchasing, bundled and unbundled models to address these evolving markets while evolving their content to the more human side of the vContent equation: topic-centric "boot camps", webinars, telecons, events and multi-client benchmark studies. Jim McGinty, President of Cambridge Information Group, has bet heavily on Internet-based access to their research since before the dawn on the Web and still focuses on a fixed-price subscription approach that focuses on proving out value by lowering the cost per search on a continually improving basis - today at about 40 cents a search, or $3 a session.

These are moves that generally meet with buyer approval, but it's a moving target. Lidia Huk, Information Resource Manager for AT&T, sees that "all you can eat" models can still work, but it's one that's challenged on pricing far more frequently and requires highly actionable usage data to spell out realistic ROI equations and effective integration into internal federated search capabilities. Barbara Peterson, Manager for Global Knowledge Management for Ecolab, echoed many of these themes, adding the perspective of a global purchaser who has to accomodate user bases that sometimes consist of just one or two people in a particular country: pricing and distribution models need also be flexible enough to support major knowledge management initiatives that make use of content from internal, external and vendor sources to drive decision making in an environment that values answers and solutions above content brands. Content companies are moving to meet these shifting needs, but with content containers busted wide open and user needs becoming ever more ephemeral and integrated into much more sophisticated business goals, it will be a race of ther next few years to keep up with these expectations in a profitable manner - no matter how much both sellers and buyers talk about "win-win" scenarios.

Buying and Selling eContent: The Software/Content Convergence Creates Solid Successes

Patrick Spain, CEO of HighBeam Research, reflected at the beginning of a panel on the convergence of software and content on how five years ago the CEO of then-high-rider VerticalNet somehow managed to complete a speech at this same conference during which the dot-com bubble was bursting in real-time and leaving his company $1 billion poorer before the stock markets closed that day. How times change. Today's Web portals thrive on honing the edge of converging content, technology and human factors in an environment that's remarkably free of hype and long on profits for those firms that can do it extraordinarily well. Certainly Yahoo! is a lead dog in defining the model for online financial success, servicing over 2.1 billion searches a month into a collection of more than 4.6 billion online documents. Search is a key vContent convergence and Yahoo! has moved quickly with its YST (Yahoo! Search Technology) to close the gap with Google's capabilities via this Google-less search engine, along with desktop toolbar widgets and contextualized content for search results, including localized content, stock graphs, news and financials, and so on. Also key to Yahoo!'s evolving vContent strategy is the inclusion of RSS-based feeds into MyYahoo! pages, an attempt to encapsulate the trend towards personal aggregation within the portal framework. Will Holmes, Business Development Manager for Microsoft Corporation, focused on how Microsoft is trying to drive content value into the hands of the millions of individuals equipped with their desktop publishing tools, using XML as the underpinnings to integrate the estimated 80 percent of available content that resides on personal drives and files with professional offerings from Factiva, HighBeam, Gale and others via its Research Pane to make it easy to integrate this content with personal documents - usually within the confines of an existing enterprise subscription. HighBeam focuses on the ground between the Yahoo!s and MSNs of the world of content, providing a high level of one-stop convenience and usability for individual subscribers wanting to search for both Web-based content and premium aggregated content, - including its highly popular images library - along with desktop integration capabilities such as importing content into Microsoft Word and Powerpoint presentations.

The convergence of software and content gives more players more ways to sell to more individual and institutional markets for content than ever before. Presentation, packaging and relevance becomes increasingly targeted towards the needs of specific users in specific contexts rather than distribution containers and mechanisms, promising the greatest rewards to those who can repackage and repurpose content most efficiently in those contexts. In this environment it becomes less important as to who is the publisher and who is the tool provider than it is to be the one who doesn't care particularly about those distinctions on the road to providing the greatest possible value.

Buying and Selling eContent: Roundtable Discussion Chews on XML

I was fortunate enough to chair a roundtable discussion at the Buying and Selling eContent conference on the convergence of content and technology, which drew an interesting cross-section of content aggregators, publishers and purchasers. I was struck in this discussion by how pervasive XML is today as the basis for most high quality content production and distribution. From the perspective of some of the global publishers, though, XML is not yet a global distribution standard, with plenty of localized distribution methods that still dominate in some areas of publishing. Nevertheless, XML offers the power of standardized distribution with the ability to personalize content in terms of its presentation. RSS syndication using XML was a topic in this and other roundtables, but notably only myself and Paul Gerbino, Publisher of the Product News Network, raised their hands amongst the attendees as being active users of this form of content distribution. It will be interesting to see how many hands go up next year. Put simply, XML is enabling individuals and institutions to access content in a standard and predictable manner that forces content providers to examine the basic value of their content more than ever before. The ironic part of this conference is that so many publishers are doing the right things with technology to add value in the right places for content, but yet this doesn't seem to alter the fact that most new ways to deliver content in a valuable manner are not being developed by established publishers or aggregators but by new players that focus on what users find to be valuable rather than on protecting long-established content licensing models as a source of revenues. The dot-com era is comfortably over, but its lessons seem to have come home to roost for good.

Buying and Selling eContent: Gartner Defines - and Plays to - Digital Media Titans

Allen Weiner, Research Director for Gartner Group Inc., finished off the conference with a view of the content industry from the perspective of a research and advisory service that caters to the technology and media sides of the content equation primarily. Not surprisingly Allen's "digital media titans" included key enablers of hardware, software and services such as Microsoft, Apple, Dell and Verizon, as well as low-tech content producers and aggregators that provide high content value to mass markets with little overhead or investment. Not one traditional publisher was mentioned amongst the ranks of these titans and disruptors. The presentation had all sorts of flashy graphs and graphics but somehow seemed a little behind the times in spite of much of its content and outlook being on target with what we're seeing in the industry. Perhaps its coming at the end of an intensive and insightful conference may have left me in a jaded mood, but I think that it also gets to the heart of how many analysts perceive content as an industry through eyes that insist that I.T. is driving the industry as a whole. Certainly from our own perspective at Shore technology is a key ingredient in creating vContent, but the kinds of high-tech "shovels" that are likely to fuel the continuing content revolution from this point out are not likely to be the ones that powered it back in the Gartner-fed bubble days. The emergence of more ubquitous content distribution standards and the prevalance of peer-to-peer content generation and validation capabilities is creating content value increasingly out of the hands of major media publishers and distributors and further away from the control of technology that's increasingly commoditized as much as the commercial content that it supports. It's way too early to call the era of "digital media titans" dead before it's barely begun, but there is a pall to the message that should remind us that while fear may motivate people to use consultants, it's rarely a motivation that results in sound business strategy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What's It All About? About.com

Primedia's About.com has "overhauled" its site, as reported by Reuters via Cnet, in order to strengthen its brand and encourage users to spend more time exploring pages on its site. About.com is an ad-supported site that contains guides to a wide range of mostly consumer-interest topics--e.g., health, sports, gardening, travel. Sort of a collection of online consumer magazines. A key source of revenue for About is Google's AdSense, a relationship that was sealed when Google acquired Sprinks from Primedia last fall. According to the Reuters article, the revamped About.com will offer more targeted advertising based on a user's profile, and repeat visitors will see different landing pages from first-time visitors. But, About.com will also have to improve its methods for directing users to related content on other About.com subject guides, if it really wants to encourage users to stick around and explore additional areas of its network. Perhaps more important, About.com should seek some non-advertising sources of revenue.

On a related note, Charles McCurdy, the former CEO of Primedia, has announced that he has formed a new company, Apprise Media, which will be backed by Spectrum Equity Investors. Spectrum has committed $175 to $200 million to help Apprise Media acquire stakes in niche publishing businesses, according to BtoB Online.

Buying and Selling eContent Conference - The Walls Come Tumbling Down at Camelback

I will provide a detailed weblog entry on this year's Buying and Selling eContent event later today, but first the outlines of what has thus far been an excellent conference. This year's edition of Information Today's premier event for the content industry attracted a great range of senior executives from the online and institutional publishing and media camps, with about half of the attendees new to BSeC and about a third returnees from multiple earlier events. While there were contextually appropriate technologists in plenty, for the most part there are very few "fish out of water" this time around. About the only down side was having fewer players from the institutional "buy side", in part because of tight budgets, no doubt, but perhaps also because these institutions need to consider sending people who represent their own roles as publishers as much as their buying roles. Apart from that I'd say attendance was about even with last year. I don't know whether it was the blazing Arizona sun or the very well focused panels, but people seem to be especially relaxed and eager this year to make deals and find answers to puzzling publishing and distribution questions. To some extent the somewhat lower profile of buyers may have been helpful in this regard, as there has been less posturing and preening for valued accounts and more focus on the real issues faced by the content industry. Key points thus far: the walls really are coming tumbling down, as previewed in our 2004 forecast; vendors are working more closely than ever with their clients to come up with solutions that work within the context of their institutions' specific integration requirements. On the online side of the equation, major portal providers see clearly that there is great use of their products by individuals within the institutional space, but are still puzzling as to how best exploit these opportunities without upsetting ticklish distribution agreements.

Just a taste of the action for now, more later. If you missed this one, you missed a good one.

Monday, April 26, 2004

News Analysis - Lemon Trees: How Content Quality Needs to be Repositioned in an Era of New Technologies

Summary: Just as U.S. auto manufacturers drifted from the models that brought them marketing success until the industry almost died in the 1980's, today's publishers and aggregators seem to be intent on ignoring many of the key needs for content quality that are the keys to their brand value - and long-term profitability. Focusing on improving existing production processes in publishing and distribution obscures the need to look at how content markets perceive content value in a changing landscape of creation and delivery technologies. From portals to search engines to eBooks and weblogs, content quality needs to exploit and adapt to the market's perception of what's valuable - regardless of how it's produced today. Read the full News Analysis

Sunday, April 25, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: The "Return" of Telerate, Reuters Earnings, Financial Content Market Share and Thomson's Canadian Moves

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on how the dropping of the Moneyline moniker is affecting Telerate marketing, Reuters' first earnings report based on its new market segmentation model, Thomson toe to toe with Bloomberg in market share and Thomson's refocusiing of its efforts in domestic Canadian markets. more...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Wired Public Library Now a Community Center

Today's public library is quite different from 10 years ago, thanks to the Internet and public access computers, as aptly described in "Libraries Wired, and Reborn" in the New York Times. Remember when libraries were supposed to become obsolete since everything would be on the Internet? Best guesses are that 1-3% of available content can be accessed on the Internet, which means at least 97% is still found in traditional books, databases, paper based formats, microfiche, and such, all of which are found in libraries. In addition, access to Internet requires both hardware and a connection, which may not be available in the home or business, as I found out while serving on a Little League baseball board.

Enter the new public library, with an expanded mission to provide access to information using technology. Rather than decreasing library usage, the Internet has actually substantially increased library usage, with public access computers a major factor to draw in new patrons. According to the article, 95% of public libraries now have PC's for public access, many aided by grants from the Gates Foundation to rural and low income communities. My experience is that those PCs are very busy, with a typical 30 minute limit per person. It has brought in a whole new community: teenagers without any other access, over 50's just learning to use the Internet, minorities who can't afford computers. Once there, the reference librarians can assist with search strategies, including paper based access to information. Once inside the building, these new patrons can discover the wealth of DVDs, CD's. books in foreign languages and local and international newspapers. and typically, there are popular literacy and ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, without fees.

In highly wired Silicon Valley, in my city of Cupertino, a new public library will open this fall, the largest civic project ever undertaken. A new city library just opened in Santa Clara to lines of waiting patrons, and the San Jose Library audaciously combined a public library with an academic library. Lots of public access computers, and even more laptop connections at tables and workstations, are key features, as well as community and project rooms. The children's reading rooms also have computers, for use by parents as well as the younger patrons.

Yet this very demand creates its own problems. Public library funding is an easy target for cost-cutting by politicians unfamiliar with the new library community. The public library constituency is not vocal or wealthy, so getting adequate operating funds is a continuing struggle. Just as I have become active in public library advocacy, won't each of you support your local public library in getting more funding?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

CMP Debuts Subscription Newsletter

CMP's InformationWeek has introduced a newsletter called Managing Offshore. The newsletter will be sold on a subscription basis and will include access to premium research and other content on the Website, as well as invitations to Webcasts and events. An important element of the subscription package is the Managing Offshore Index and the related tool on the Website, which allows users to track companies that provide outsourcing services with interactive tools.

The for-fee subscription model is a departure for CMP, which is known for its ad-suppported controlled circulation model for its stable of trade publications. The question is: can CMP persuade a segment of its audience to pay for content it produces? In this case, they have a good chance of succeeding. InformationWeek has a track record for selling research that it produces. Furthermore, InformationWeek is well respected for its editorial quality. With outsourcing, CMP has chosen a hot topic that has a financial impact on many companies. Even in the environment where so much content is available for free on the Web, serious business users are willing to pay for focused content from a trusted source.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

PaidContent.org Digital Media Deals Report Provides an Across-the-Board View of Content Investment

Readers, please allow us a shameless but well-deserved plug. Rafat Ali, founder of PaidContent.org, has provided a great report on where the money is flowing from venture capital firms into new content-oriented investments. For $100 you get a nice compendium of Rafat's weblog entries specific to VC moves in the content space and companies financed by VCs, along with a handy table outlining over fifty deals in the media and B2B arenas for content and related technologies, including deal numbers, backers, sector focus and key elements of their business models. The content industry and venture capital are oftentimes at arm's length with one another - "content equals death" was a mantra I heard from one VC in the dot-com days - but it's encouraging to see first and second round financing going in not only to the usual big media-oriented tech moves but as well to some companies that are at the heart of vContent. It's difficult for many investors to focus on vContent as an investment opportunity when the legacy of big software and systems sales still drives the thinking of so many investors, but at the end of the day it's content that people are purchasing and creating, not widgets. The message is beginning to sink in, but it will take more reports like Rafat's and better industry metrics on content-oriented investment performance to convince people that this is a space worthy of new investments - not to mention the best research and advisory services from you-know-who...;-)

Inxight Launches TimeWall, Announces Contract with CIA Venture Group

Insight Software, Inc. has announced the launch of TimeWall, a nifty content visualization tool that allows content to be displayed as if it were on a 3-dimensional historical time line with multiple threads. I had the opportunity to view this in preview form a few months ago, and it is a very handy way to understand how content representing events, people and such relate over time and how the introduction of various variables can change those visual relationships. Obviously the CIA finds it to be a nifty way to keep tabs on what the "baddies" have been doing over time in relationship to one another, given a new Inxight contract with their In-Q-Tel VC arm, but in the demos that I saw it had some great applications to more mundane concerns, such as understanding how well individuals in sales teams perform in relation to real-world events. Slide a few controls on the TimeWall back and forth and you can factor in any number of variables to hone in on the real evolution of cause-and-effect content relationships. If you're looking for a new way to visualize trends and relationships through your content sets, this is a must-see toy that may very well be worth considering for your desktop or browser.

Telerate Drops Moneyline Moniker, to Focus on Benchmark Content for Capital Markets and Transactions

The source of anxious looks on the faces of more than one Moneyline Telerate employee was confirmed today as the financial content and technology company announced the dropping of the "Moneyline" appelation from its name and a focus away from its own content distribution platform to distributing its core capital markets benchmark content through major content distributor channels. Telerate's existing Active8 and WebStation front ends will still be made available, but they are now available for distribution via Telerate content distribution partners as well. In other words, it's back to the feeds business, with additional focus on providing content value via trade execution channels such as its own Momentum transactions engine. As noted in yesterday's New York Times, as retail investing takes off again after years of market wariness, it is content-oriented online trading firms that are benefitting the most, even as institutional trading takes on new contours as investment banks try to find new ways via their own content offerings to add value - and margins - to trade executions. There is little difference between the goals of financial content vendors and their clients these days: it's just a matter of who takes the lion's share of the execution business. While a necessary defensive retrenchment, the Telerate repositioning at least acknowledges that the traditional market data "terminal" business is largely dead, leaving financial content companies to focus on delivering content quality in as many valuable contexts as possible. This is the New Aggregation in the extreme, taking hold when people realize that good content is where you find it- regardless of who delivers it.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The DRM Shell Game: More Wait and See Will Lead to Fewer Profits to See

Digital rights management (DRM) has gone from the wayward stepchild of wonkish startups to the designated savior of the media world in an amazingly short period of time. All it took was Apple's iPod showing the music industry that if you gave consumer reasonable choices that made them feel good about owning rights-protected content they'd at least take a bite. Now everyone from film companies to financial companies are taking a bite of DRM. Two forums last week, the SIIA Executive Roundtable and JupiterMedia's DRM Strategies Conference laid out the state of the art for DRM, offering insights and data that seem to indicate some progress towards content companies accepting distribution of rights-protected content. At least from the podium. What was most remarkable about these events were the off-the-record comments by some presenters and panelists once out of earshot of anxious media companies to whom their current meal tickets were owed. The consensus of these in-the-know experts on protecting intellectual property rights was: where were these guys for the past decade? Yet the reluctance of media companies to embrace the end user as a primary content distribution node is not significantly challenged by the companies that have the most to gain by having these companies pour money into DRM schemes that probably won't change the realities "on the ground" in any significant way. Put simply, DRM is content packaging, packaging that should provide features and capabilities that are as clear to users as a CD's "jewel box" and as inexpensive and easy to use. Standards-based solutions such as those promoted by the Content Reference Forum that can interlock with content identification initiatives such as DOI offer an inkling of hope that content providers can adopt a universal framework that can service everyone's needs for content security effectively. In the meantime, individuals and institutions are going on their own paths managing content value with or without DRM. Any content company thinking that DRM will stem the tide of new usage patterns will be sorely disappointed. Only by getting in front of those usage patterns and offering new content value will DRM become a readily adopted means of securing content profits.

How to Monetize Weblogs

Webloggers from near and far congregated in my backyard (Cambridge, MA) on Saturday for Bloggercon II. I regret that I couldn't attend, but I have dutifully reviewed as many of the blogs about the gathering as I could. The session on Blogging as a Business, led by Jeff Jarvis, was one on the most popular sessions, and a long list of potential methods of raising revenue from a Weblog was created prior to the session. [For readers who would like some background on what is a Weblog, today's headline from LinkUp provides a thorough overview.]

Blogging has really taken off in the past year or two, in large part due to the tools that are readily available, such as www.blogger.com, which make it easy (and cheap) to post content to the Web in a standardized (XML) format that can be scanned by others, or simply read on one's Website. No need to learn HTML or XML, just set up an account and begin blogging.

When it comes to the question of how to monetize Weblogs, there's no single answer. The only thing that is clear is that there are many options [registration required], depending on the blogger's objectives. Some bloggers are writing to showcase their area of expertise and point-of-view in order to promote related goods or services (e.g., this Weblog); some are writing because they want to be recognized for their writing and reporting skills and ultimately create their own commercial site or be hired by a publication or organization that will pay them to write. In either case, the line between the editorial (or entertaining) content and advertising content continues to blur--which makes it important for publishers and advertisers to learn from each other as they experiment with new models for monetizing digital content.

In Premium Weblogs: Dow Jones Acquisitions Power Earnings, Thomson Strengthens Canadian Holdings

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on how recent acquisitions of the Stockton Record, Technologic Partner and Alternative Investor are fitting into the Dow Jones family and reviews the details of Thomson's purchase of plans to buy the Information Services division of the Banking and Investment Group of Montreal's CGI Group and Canada's Belzberg Technologies. more...

Friday, April 16, 2004

High Beam Declares 25 Percent Off Sale for Premium Research Library

This just into my inbox, an email offering me the premium side of High Beam's research set - bringing down the subscription price to $74.95/year or $14.95/month. That's getting down to Wall Street Journal levels and is in the same neck of the woods as Factiva's initial subscription fee. Factiva goes $69 for an annual subscription fee, $9.95 monthly fee per track folder, and $2.95 per article viewed. Getting individuals to "yes" is a key factor in content ecommerce, and using low initial subscription thresholds is an important element towards that goal. But even with this, straight subscribe/purchase models are going to have an increasingly hard time competing against models that include contextual content monetization capabilities that make it easier for content providers to price content in proportion to its true, contextual, real-time market value. Notably both HighBeam and Factiva shy away from the Moreover or a9 approach of using one search to provide both open Web and premium aggregation results, in part because of the limits (or from their perspective, the strengths) of their search technologies and in part because of the latent mindsets of "old aggregation" players who are still convinced that open Web content is inferior because it's not properly sanitized through taxonomies and metadata. There are no "magic bullets" for this merging - both Moreover and a9 have notable limitations in their approaches - but in the New Aggregation the data sets that provide vContent value can come from anywhere at any time, with or without the usual aggregator licensing agreements, to help people solve specific problems.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Amazon a9 Debuts, Combines Google Searching with Amazon eCommerce and Personalization

Amazon's a9 search portal made it Beta-form debut, as noted by CNET News, combining Google's web searches and contextual ads with Amazon's content ecommerce capabilities, as well as some very interesting and useful user features. Registration for personalization features is easy to do if you're an Amazon customer, as a9 borrows registration data already on file with Amazon if you're a customer. What a coup for content ecommerce: search for topics, buy related premium content with a supllier that has a dead-certain track record and the ability to provide the industry's best (though hardly perfect) "content concierge" services. User interface features include search history folders (instant personal taxonomy), a very slick vertical folder design for book results and search history, and searches accessible via Web address input (try a9.com/open access as an example). It's a simple feature set, but highly compelling as a very competent "hit the ground running" first effort. Main weakness: the inability to use all Amazon book texts as search criteria severely limits relevance of book results in comparison to typical Google results. Having the ecommerce data helps to some degree, but that plus taxonomies and metadata isn't quite enough. This is more argument for publishers to accelerate the launching of book titles "ebook first", as it will accelerate the ability of titles to be found via a9-like interfaces with an ease that will place premium content in a better position versus open Web search results. When this model includes additional payment models and does a slicker integration of premium and regular content, watch out, aggregators. The race is on...

Quick take: SIIA Panels on DRM, Content Convergence, Jupiter DRM Conference

Back from a long day in New York City attending functions covering DRM and content convergence, will summarize them in detail later this week. A few key highlights: both the SIIA and Jupiter talks agreed that overall content market growth will be in the five to seven percent growth range in the next five years or so, and yet figures from the Jupiter conference show that some content areas such as online greetings cards can enjoy growth rates in the 20 percent range. Content that allows individuals to add or create content value is the key to future profits. On that note, most everyone would seem to agree that content companies are not very aggressive in their thinking about how to use DRM to enable end purchasers as key components of the distribution value chain. Most seem to think of this as something designed for a small fraction of individuals who distribute their own rights-protected content - ignoring the more than 200 million people worldwide who use just KaZaa to distribute content. In developing Asian nations, Jupiter research is showing near market monopolies for pirated content in many countries for audio, video and business software. Mobsters running CD mills that allow CDs to cell on the street for a dollar or less fuel this industry, which is killing native content markets as much as content from Western nations. India has its own issues, as its "Bollywood" movies are being spun out in bootleg factories in Malaysia. Bottom line: DRM is not likely to protect profits on physical media without major international law enforcement initiatives. In the meantime, DRM does very well in helping corporations package valuable content such as proprietary securities trading formulas for their clients via DRM from Sealed Media and others. Quote of the day from Bill Rosenblatt of JupiterMedia/DRMWatch, asking the key question to Talal Shamoon, CEO of InterTrust, victor in the major patent suit settlement with Microsoft: "Are you going to Disney World?" Apparently not, Talal sees the settlement as but another step in validating the value of DRM. More to come...

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Lawmakers, Regulators Weigh in on Google's Gmail

We've put in a lot on Gmail the past few days, with both a news analysis piece and earlier weblog, but fast-moving developments require at least one more quick look. CNET hears from regulators that the U.K. is prepared to give Gmail the regulatory nod, as long as it's very up front about how content is to be used, and a fine analysis of Gmail's terms and conditions from The Center for Democracy and Technology goes through legal details and finds little to complain about in terms of its position in current law - even if they'd like them to not use personal informaiton from email for adding value to other content services. In other words, the privacy flap is largely just that from a legal standpoint. But leave it to California in a hot year for U.S. politics, well funded by Silicon Valley, to propose legislation to block Gmail based on its insertion of ads into email content. I am all for sensible legislation that protects citizens from malfeasance and abuse, but this is silly knee-jerk reaction to the rising of the content nation that has little to do with real threats to privacy. 'Nuff said.

Monday, April 12, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Thomson to Acquire TradeWeb and Go Head to Head With Bloomberg

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville takes a look at how the purchase positions it against rivals and with the bond trading networks' participants. more...

News Analysis - Content Nation: Google's Gmail Privacy Concerns vs. Visionary Content Value

In danger sometimes we find answers to our problems in places that we would least expect to find safety. The controversial  terms and conditions of use associated with Google's new Beta Gmail email service seem to be very threatening to many concerned about the privacy of personal content. But in a world in which dangerous and noxious emails turn up in even corporate inboxes with alarming regularity, what's wrong with trying to control the context of personal content? Gmail may be just the experiment we need to design a strong content nation that can both protect and serve its citizenry. more...

Friday, April 9, 2004

Morgan Stanley Acquires Barra for Analytics: Where Were the Vendors?

As noted by Wall Street & Technology and other outlets, global brokerage and investment banking firm Morgan Stanley will acquire the risk management analytics firm Barra for $816.4 million or $41 per share, bringing into its own fold the capabilities of one of the leading value-add sources of financial content. Since the decline of broker research as a distinguishing factor in providing services to investment banking and brokerage and the subsequent pressure on trade execution margins, financial firms have been challenged to find new twists to their own value-add equations. The acquisition of Barra not only provides Morgan Stanley with an answer to that problem, it also places into question the long-term positioning of financial content vendors selling solutions to major financial firms that give them efficiencies but not a unique market advantage. With communications firms such as Radianz positioning themselves as financial content distributors and financial firms striving to provide more unique content services on the front end of their retail and institutional sales platforms, it appears as if financial content vendors find themselves caught in the middle of an ongoing squeeze that may not ease up any time soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

eBook Bestseller List Debuts

Today the Open eBook Forum released the first industry-wide eBook bestseller list, a major step in gaining legitimacy in the book publishing world. Best seller lists are important to authors and their agents, particularly for their PR value, which translates into higher book sales and income opportunities. It is no coincidence that Amazon and USA Today have their own best seller lists, to compete with the venerable New York Times bestseller list. Kudos to the Open eBook Forum for this major effort.

The best seller list confirms that observation that people are reading the same titles in electronic form as in print form. The top best seller is The Da Vinci Code, followed by Angels and Demons, no surprise! The top 7 ebook titles are also top print titles for USA Today. Against All Enemies (#8) is a very interesting case of a hot book, sold out of many book stores, which is gaining incremental sales as a readily available ebook. Three other best sellers highlight the advantage of the electronic media: the Bible, Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus. Much easier to carry electronically! Noticeably missing--the computer books that many (including me) assumed would have a heavy presence in the ebook market. Refreshing news, ebook readers have the same profile as general readers, further evidence this format is going mainstream!

Related premium report on The eBooks MarketPlace: A New Evaluation is available.

Yahoo! Stock Surges and Splits on Doubled Q1 Revenues

It's sunny days in Sunnyvale, California as Silicon.com reports along with the world the the estimates-beating performance of Yahoo!'s first quarter fiscal results, an impressive $101 million in profits compared with $46.7 million in 1Q03. A surge in advertising revenues, powered in large part by its Overture contextual ad holding, lead the gains. Yahoo! now sits on a $2.7 billion cash pile, ready to invest in any number of initiatives to bolster its position in the online portal marketplace. Where rivals AOL and MSN waffle with mixed marketing goals and motives, Yahoo! stands alone as the only major online portal that is absolutely dedicated to serving online clients with the best that the Web has to offer. Lesson: if you want to take the Web seriously, don't look back. The question for the next four quarters, though, is whether any traditional portal is going to succeed without fully accomodating the role of Web-connected individuals and institutions as the true center of the content universe. Yahoo! has done a brilliant job of putting together the Web's leading portal service, but Google's single-minded focus on listening to everything that the Web has to tell us as individuals and groups of common interests still comes far closer to the likely topology of future Web content value generation. Especially as Web services come into play the ability to create "portals of the moment" that meet very specific, immediate and personal needs taking the widest and best-networked view of content into consideration will be the focus of most user interests. Expect Yahoo! to have another great year, but also expect the balance of power to continue to shift towards those who can best exploit the highly distributed strength of the Web.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

The Economics of eBooks - Hardware is Not the Cost Barrier

An item from New Jersey's Courier Post highlights local libraries making quicker inroads with eBooks purchases. Several library systems in south Jersey are implementing eBook systems, including the Burlington County Library System, which the article said had spent about $1,000 for loaner PDAs to be used for eBooks reading and about $15,000 for "600 eBooks and the Web site to access them." Seemed somewhat high, so I contacted Molly Connor at BCLS, who confirmed that most of this expenditure was for their OverDrive-powered eBook portal, with probably about $10,000 spent for the eBooks titles. That's about $16 a title, not bad when one considers that it's a mix of classics and best sellers, but still not a great bargain, considering the long-term cost effectiveness of eBooks titles. Publishers will be better off lowering the base price of eBooks to libraries and offering borrowers lending upgrades (borrow when "copies" are on waiting list for a premium, etc.), so as to encourage a wide enough catalog to stimulate more interest in their titles. The DRM-protected library lending model is potentially one of the most powerful engines for stimulating premium content sales, one which all kinds of content publishers would be wise to visit with more interest and vigor.

Reuters Pulls Financial News from Portals: A Shot in the Foot or Strategic Repositioning?

The recent move by Reuters noted by Journalism.com and many others to eliminate its core financial news content available via major Web portals is perhaps not as much of a shot in the foot as it may appear at first. Reuters sees the power of news search engines becoming the new "front page" for online news seekers, which draw eyeballs to the stories - and ad revenues - of the site on which the search engine finds a story. In this "good content is where you find it" world, portals built off of subscription feeds of news are in some ways passe, as aggregation on the fly from wherever relevant content is found is the new value point. So score one for Reuters for sensing this trend and trying to monetize those news search clicks more effectively via a Reuters-controlled context. But at what cost? The gamble in the short term is that revenues from the pure-Reuters home portal will increase enough to counteract the loss of revenues and brand exposure that they enjoy via consumer portals today and tighten up brand exclusivity for professional sales. Unlike AP, which is beholden to its member papers, Reuters need not cater to other outlets to acquire content, and it appears to be taking advantage of that positioning - albeit somewhat late in the online game. This is a long-term positioning move which may pay off sooner than one thinks, given the number of financial professionals who use Reuters news via consumer portals. But it places enormous pressure on Reuters to build up the value of its portal to attract and hold financial news consumers. They're on the right track, but we'll have to see if there's enough steam in the boiler to get them to the next station.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Google's Gmail Promises Personal Knowledge Management Online

The "Search Wars" have been reaching near-apocalyptic heights as of late, to the point where it's unfolding in near-realtime. The most significant announced factor, though, is perhaps Google's GMail, still not available to the full public in Beta form (perhaps wizened by the rough launch of Orkut) but already generating enormous amounts of buzz and scrutiny. Especially worrisome to privacy experts is that Google crawls GMail to provide relevant contextual ads to accompany viewed mails. according to Phil Wolff's "a klog apart" weblog GMail will also provide Google with better scoring of web links in its general search engine gained by crawling mails for link references. GMail's key strength is that it allows people to search for mail using its leading technologies, and then provides mails in appropriate context with related mails. GMail is a bold move, but privacy concerns aside (tell me how private my own inbox is these days with tons of spam inundating it), it's an enormous move in the right direction towards true "Personal Knowledge Management" (PKM) without having to rely on still-balky desktop software that has been the focus of many PKM efforts to date. With a gigabyte of promised storage for free, this is a huge blow targeted at Yahoo! and MSN that promises to be brilliantly integrated with existing services and probable desktop extensions. If those extensions include local crawling capabilities, then PKM may be ready to take on a very powerful form, indeed, potentially leagues ahead of those who insist on having to "own" content to give it value. To those of you who thought that this was all about Google becoming another online consumer portal to survive, guess again: Google is going for all of the content marbles, both individual and institutional, not caring about the where and how of content but simply applying universal principles to it that can be appreciated by audiences no matter what their personal or professional context. Many of the pieces required to do that are still very raw, but with its boldness Google may continue to sway people towards its vision before others finance their way into competition with that vision.

Topix Offers KeepMedia Content to Complement its Powerful Online News Offerings

Last month's launch of Topix.net was spiced up with the launch of magazine articles available from aggregator KeepMedia, according to the Seattle Times. KeepMedia content appears in matching news categories in a secondary column reserved for important but not-breaking news (here's an example for the category "blogs"). Click on an article and you get an excerpt, click again you can get a free trial or regular access to this and all other single articles for KeepMedia's $49 annual subscription. This is a slick implementation, providing a sorely needed and perfectly targeted context for KeepMedia's almost-current premium magazine content and complementing the Topix portal that promises to grow in sophistication in the months ahead. Topix' claim to fame is deeper categorization and culling of online news sources than its Google, Yahoo or MSN competitors, providing a wide range of newpaper-like pages that highlight breaking news and highly relevant recent content, including locally targeted content. Topix' categorization capabilities (more than 150,000 categories claimed) also allow it to provide references to related categories for individual news stories, as well as automatic references to recently surfed categories, popular categories and people in the news. RSS-based news feeds tuned to specific topic interests are also available. On free-text searches and most category searches Topix is not quite up to "big three" standards for relevance and it tends to glide over news sources that aren't "real sources" but which have excellent content, but in almost all other aspects Topix is one of the most powerful tools for online news aggregation available today. This is another fine example of vContent at work, using leading technology, the best of "good content is where you find it" and excellent usability engineering. Judging by the sparseness of ads its early days on the revenue side for Topix, but worst case this is an excellent implementation that could be scooped up by a nearly-major portal provider in an instant.

Monday, April 5, 2004

In News Analysis - The Bookcase and the Laptop: Monetizing Content in the Post-Industrial Era

With manufacturing comes excess and with excess comes economics, telling us how to save ourselves from our all too human tendency to reproduce things like crazy. But now that the computer has introduced the ultimate manufacturing machine, how can the content industry survive based on the economics of finite supply and demand? Sources as diverse as Reason Magazine, the artist formerly known as Prince and OneSource point the way towards a post-industrial model for building premium content value that moves away from mass production and towards creating ever-larger presences of unique information and experiences. more...

File Sharing's Impact on Music Sales: Big Music Killed the Radio Star?

The New York Times picks up on last week's announcement of a study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that questions the music industry's claims of doom at the hands of file sharers. Instead of surveying users (who's really going to admit to downloading files these days?), they looked at actual file download statistics and asessed their impact on music sales. Their verdict: the impact is near-nil, almost none whatsoever. In the meantime rock/funk legend (formerly known as) Prince was launching his own lifestyle-oriented Web site for fans from which they can download his latest album with Entriq-engineered rights management, while boutique Internet radio stations such as Harris Radio feature local indie artists as a promotional and community-building channel. What's this all add up to? In a nutshell, the music industry and advertising industry helped to kill the primary content outlet from which people gain interest in artists: radio. File downloaders are in effect filling in the gaps left by a music industry that does a miserable job of building interest in individual artists both old and new, leaving it to grass-roots efforts that are not tied to the financial models of traditional broadcast media and content distribution. Internet radio has the advantage of being able to build interest in artists on a very personalized and specialized basis, with relatively unlimited bandwidth in any marketplace to reach those interests with near-zero overhead. Like print, the music industry is having difficulty adapting to an era in which it no longer controls the primary production and distribution processes for content and cannot adapt easily to today's premium content business which requires building content value contextually within an engaged community. The broadcast/production model for premium content is not dead, but when both supply and bandwidth are limitless it needs to rethink itself in light of what interactive, community-based publishing can do to build demand.

Sunday, April 4, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Reuters Product Meeting

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on a confab in London covering the latest product developments. more...

Friday, April 2, 2004

Thomson's Move to MarketWatch News Leaves Reuters Ruminating

The Wall Street Journal's coverage [PREMIUM] of Thomson Financial's decision to replace Reuters-sourced news on its Thomson ONE advisory platforms with content from Marketwatch.com fills in many interesting gaps uncovered in Thomson's press release. The key additional fact is that MarketWatch.com is to expand its editorial staff by about 50 percent as a result of the deal, expansion which MarketWatch CEO Larry Kramer notes subsidizes their strategy to penetrate institutional trading more effectively. The press release notes that Thomson will call upon not only new staff but monitoring of deal channels such as Thomson's IFR to highlight and amplify key events in the securities trading marketplace. Reuters in effect brought the deal upon itself as it balked when it saw Thomson using Reuters news not only in the financial advisory space but as a key tool to penetrate institutional trading. While MarketWatch obviously lacks the global footprint of the Reuters news organization, it is a news outlet born of the Internet era, with edgy and savvy coverage and analysis of major deals and industry events via feeds and a highly respected and dynamic Web portal presence. Going toe to toe with Reuters and Bloomberg in the trading rooms is a leap up for MarketWatch, but it's perhaps an easier leap than it is for the global legacy of Reuters to respond as a culture to a new era of news that engages and rewards inter-organization collaboration more than ever before. It will be several months at the least before the full impact of this deal begins to be felt, but the race for Reuters to get a news product that responds more effectively to the demands of online-trained users is already hot.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Forestweb's iiPublisher Now Combines BizInt Capabilities with Client Communications

What should a business intelligence publication be? Well, what would you like it to be? Forestweb has been building solutions to address that question for the forest products industry using a combination of real-time news, market sector analytics and client-sourced content to create business intelligence solutions one client at a time in their sector. With the latest announced version of their iiPublisher capability, they add on the ability to turn this stream into an outbount client communications tool that can inform their clients both about the industry as a whole and product and service developments in their own organization. If I had to say where trade publishing was going in the next few years, I would have to say that Forestweb has it greased in may ways. Combining deep knowledge of a sector with the ability to integrate and deliver inbound, in-house and outbound content to enhance both knowledge and relationships is the profile of tomorrow's trade publisher, an ally who helps to provide content value on many different levels of an organization. Aggregation in this picture is just a framework for much more complex issue solving.

Denton's Kinja Debuts, Provides Aggregation of Weblogs and More

Nick Denton and his team have finally pulled the veil off of the Beta version of Kinja, a content aggregation service that combines both weblogs and other sources of Web-located content into a weblog reader format. This is very "early days" stuff - no search facility, some features are working (or not) in mysterious ways, navigation needs a bit of work - but the outlines of an effective content aggregation service are there. Unlike services such as Technorati, which takes a more techie, search-ish approach to content aggregation, Kinja is all about making the Web, and Weblogs in particular, more accessible to the average person. Add in a widget to your browser toolbar, and Kinja will allow you to have not only weblogs but other forms of Web content added in to your personal Web page at Kinja in digest format. Predefined topic categories are also available and both personal and preformatted pages have contextual ads (sponsored links) imbedded as an initial form of monetization. Others have taken an "all the Web" approach in theory, but in practice most people don't want to deal with a lot of techno-geek stuff to find out what's important. As Nick Dention mentioned in today's New York Times article, "Web logs have probably only reached 10 percent of the Internet population. Our goal is to reach the remainder." Key to this appeal will be using technology to tune content to users's interests and needs no matter what the source. Where portals oftentimes take the approach of allowing people to select from "real" content, the Kinja approach plays off of one of the key themes that we see people taking towards content: "Good content is where you find it." Will this succeed as a product? As keen as this is, it may turn out to be more of a showcase pointing the way for consumer-oriented services to integrate this kind of capability into their services. Perhaps a "weblogs" tab for Google in the making? Stranger things have happened...

AlacraBlog: Getting Personal with Content Marketing

An interesting twist in the blogging arena: Steve Goldstein, CEO of content services provider Alacra, has initiated a weblog as a prominent feature of his company's corporate site. The Weblog is a mixture of commentary on his travels as a CEO through conferences and discoveries of online content, sprinkled with announcements of new content and features available from this premium content aggregator. This is an interesting alternative to corporate newsletter communications, providing a very personal and engaging context for marketing information without having to commit to a full-blown publishing schedule or develop mailing lists for marketing blasts. As Steve notes in one entry, "The major issue facing content aggregators is that it is practically impossible to make money selling other people’s content. How the aggregator innovates and adds value (without stepping on the toes of the content providers) is the critical issue." Kudos, Steve, for a good use of weblogging to highlight the core issue facing most aggregators today - and for using it to develop relationships with people who can get value from premium content services. There's vContent in a nutshell.