Thursday, May 26, 2005

SIIA Content Forum 2005: Beyond Content, The New Economics of Content

Los Angeles and the Universal Studios Sheraton were an appropriate setting for the Software and Information Industry Association annual 2005 Content Forum, with an industry that is facing a situation similar to the broadcast industry. Publishers, content technology companies and online distributors are struggling with creating valuable channels to reach their audiences, in a world dominated by the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo and MSN (does this sound like CBS, NBC, and ABC?). Yet the future for the attendees at this always lively and valuable conference is in creating specialty channels, similar to the cable TV model which can deliver hundreds of different views, each catering to a different niche audience, using a mix of advertising, pay, pay per view, and paid inclusion.

Passing the TV channel changer was an apt analogy highlighting the theme of reaching the individual user of content, not an industry per se. This requires delivering the right content at the right time to the right user, a not insignificant challenge in an industry which originated in the print media, and still derives the major part of revenue from either print advertising or subscriptions. The opening keynote panel, "Searching for Content in all the Right Places", featuring FAST Search & Transfer, Topix, Yahoo and Vivisimo, all emphasized the value and opportunity in building specialized vertical search engines/portals, structuring the content to optimize retrieval by the large search engines. Following on that theme, Shore Senior Analyst Janice McCallum, chaired the panel on "Morphing Channels: Choosing Online Channel Partners" with medical information providers, Ovid, Infotrieve, ePocrates, and FDC Reports, describing the different channels they use to reach their customers.

Defining the audience in terms of a job function, or maybe even a set of tasks, was a recurring theme in the different sessions. For ePocrates, it's the individual physician who needs certain authoritative information at the bedside, and can't be lugging around print materials or necessarily have access to a terminal. For Biz360, it's the public relations person, who needs to know breaking news which may affect their company. For Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, it's ensuring over 1000 lawyers worldwide know events and news that might affect their clients, before the client is even aware. INPUT has built a database of intelligence about government procurement, an essential source for sales people selling multi-million, even billion dollar contracts to the federal government. Congressional Quarterly delivers content to analysts who need information about congressional actions in Washington D.C. . GlobalSpec has built a database of part numbers and their technical specs for design engineers, no small feat given the vagaries of manufacturers. Infotrieve delivers content to the bench research scientists, who want a single source of journal articles from hundreds of primary publishers, and deep vertical solutions for topics such as proteomics. The individual, regardless of whether payment is through an institution or individually, is the new market reality. Interestingly, this flowed into the keynote speaker, Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson speaking to both the Ed Tech as well as the Content Forum attendees, emphasizing that the student is the customer, not the government and not the school system.

The global market place was another theme, with the search engines being the obvious worldwide distribution channel, but increasingly the content is taking on a global aspect. Variety, the quintessential American entertainment publication, now has Variety China and is looking to expand titles to other countries. Reed Business Information is not only developing international versions, but also outsourcing production, and actively looking for partners in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Ovid delivers content in local media in local markets, i.e. CD-ROM in Iran, and is also actively expanding international medical coverage through their Lippincott imprint. Infotrieve has the challenge of publishers who artificially lock themselves out of markets by fixed copyright charges which illegal in certain countries.

For more insight and details on the panels, including the perennial issue of the impact of the technology, Janice McCallum and I will be posting to the Industry Events weblog, in lieu of the virtual John Blossom, who is in Tokyo this week.
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