Wednesday, April 28, 2004

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.
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