Friday, September 14, 2007

ECNext's Manta Debuts a la Carte Business Information Supermart

ECNext has been developing its Manta business information site for a few years now, a conglomeration of ad-supported and pay-per-view premium content that's designed for both people not normally subscribing to business information databases and people who you'd think by all rights would be. The announcement of a major upgrade to Manta doesn't necessarily change that basic marketing profile, but it sure broadens its appeal to this profile significantly.

Manta gives you access not only to a smidgen of free company profile information but as well a well-designed tabbed interface with access to mostly premium content covering detailed corporate profiles and reports from D&B and Hoover's, executive contacts from SGA, by-the-article stories from major trade magazines and journals, credit reports from D&B and Moody's, market sector reports and press releases. Except for the press releases and basic company profiles this is strictly a pay-as-you go menu, with the least expensive items - trade magazine articles - typically going for $19.95.

$19.95 for a magazine article? Well, if you're not willing to pop for a Factiva or Nexis subscription and you want to toss it in with reports ranging $150 and up, think of that magazine article as the candy next to the checkout stand. Can't hurt, might help - and certainly helps ECNext's revenues. This is merchandizing for business information, something that a standalone a la carte news service such as LexisNexis' cannot offer by trying to eke out news articles for $3 a shot. Even if LexisNexis offers a far broader range of articles, sometimes convenient shopping and understanding the value of the opportunity to the shopper is everything.

To call the new Manta a mashup would be a stretch, but like many of today's mashups Manta builds in some interactivity for its users to add value via contributions to corporate profiles. Usually this will turn out to be the companies themselves trying to keep their online information fresh and accurate but it's more than any other business information provider is doing for corporate profiles. Great for small companies that want to get more visibility, which also happens to be the type of company that many Manta users are seeking out.

Manta has been building up traffic steadily over the past couple of years to the point that it's become a solid online presence with impressive audiences compared to other online business information sources. Of course the familiar subscription brands make major revenues off of highly sophisticated enterprise services and deep databases of licensed content, so it's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison. But think of this widened Manta premium supermart as an interesting middle level brand between I'll-take-what-I-get Google search results or the relatively limited number of companies covered by a Yahoo! Finance on the low end and we-do-everything-perfectly-for everyone brands on the higher end of the market.

Manta's also a middle ground for premium business information providers not willing or able to concoct an online offering that appeals to situational premium buyers with very specific focuses who want more than just a report shopping cart. With a comprehensive range of information categories and filtering tools for professionals focusing on sales and marketing, strategic planning and business development Manta makes is easy for someone with high-value business goals to find that they're looking for.

The depth of information and features in Manta may not be everything that subscription database services offer but it's enough to build a brand that promises to appeal to independent content searchers with an expense account - and that may be enough in time to expand the brand with these high-end buyers. In the meantime Manta gives business information buyers a good starting point for getting that extra little boost in decision-making that the open Web cannot offer.
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