from the Field
2004 SIIA Content Forum
By Jean Bedord
"Show Me the Money!" was the theme of the 2004 SIIA
Content Forum, held May 1718 at San Francisco's Palace Hotel. This gathering
attracted content industry leaders who met to make deals and grapple with the "disruptive
technology" that's impacting their businesses. Last year's SIIA Annual Conference
was an all-encompassing event, with keynote speakers from well-known corporations
and separate tracks for software, content, and education. However, there was
little attendee crossover between the three tracks.
In order to sharpen its focus, this year the Annual Conference was separated
into three distinct events: the Content Forum, the Ed Tech Industry Summit,
and the Enterprise Software Summit. From the content point of view, this approach
worked better than last year's rather schizophrenic gathering of software and
content providers, although registration was a bit quirky, with separate desks
and vendors in different areas of the hotel. As always, one of the highlights
of SIIA events is the opportunity for face-to-face discussions with content-company
executives. This year's gathering was no exception.
New Content Distributors
A lively panel discussion between representatives from Yahoo!, HighBeam Research,
and Northern Light kicked off the Content Forum. David Seuss, CEO of the revitalized
Northern Light, places a high value on the editorial aspects of providing a
search service that aggregates sources which meet business needs, including
internal sources, free Web sources, and proprietary content. NL's focus is
on targeted slices of content, a model that's more valuable to its customers
than the general search-engine approach.
In contrast, Patrick Spain, CEO of HighBeam Research, targets individual
business customers with a $99.95 subscription fee that can be easily expensed.
As a customer, there's no differentiation between free and premium sources
in the subscription price, so the buy decision doesn't intrude on searching.
Furthermore, this approach doesn't differentiate between consumer or employee
David Mandelbrot, vice president of search content at Yahoo!, faces different
challenges as a major player in the search-engine market. With 800 searches
per second and 2.1 billion searches per month, the user scale is overwhelming,
and finding answers is frequently difficult. Yahoo!, along with Google, is
attempting to integrate premium sources into search results to improve answers,
but this requires a billing infrastructure and a differentiation between premium
and free search results. Neither task is easy, particularly on this scale.
With 140 million registered users and paid content areas already in place,
Yahoo! has a head start on Google in this area. Thus, the search-engine war
continues in Sunnyvale, Calif.
A striking aspect of this panel discussion was that all three companies depend
on traditional aggregators, such as ProQuest and Gale, to deliver content as
the middleman, rather than dealing with the idiosyncrasies of thousands of
individual publishers. The challenge is to institute the business models and
market: Northern Light with organizations that have established information
managers, HighBeam Research with the individual business/consumer, and Yahoo!
with a new style of pay-per-view that's embedded with free content.
The leadoff panel for the second day of the conference represented the full
spectrum of the content value chain. The underlying theme was the difficulty
in sorting out the thorny contract, license, and copyright issues that plague
the content chain for the end user, who may or may not be a paying customer.
Richard Geiger of the San Francisco Chronicle articulated the dilemma
of a content creator whose content is free on SFGate.com but premium in other
channels. Jeff Davis of CBS MarketWatch faces the issue of integrating and
managing licenses from acquired companies Inlumen and Pinnacor (formerly Screaming
Media), which requires several full-time in-house lawyers. Cory Johnson of
RSiCopyright described the latest copyright-compliance offerings, which integrate
into the Web browser.
The most intriguing discussion centered around the partnership between Factiva,
represented by Alan Scott, and IBM WebFountain, represented by Bob Carlson.
The basic premise is that corporations can no longer ignore what's happening
outside their walls. WebFountain provides an analytical framework to look at
trends and patterns in both the open Web and premium content. One application
is reputation management. For example, one company heard that its shampoo was
being recommended for degreasing driveways. This was valuable information for
managing its image.
Data-mining rights are murky, yet potentially lucrative. Factiva allows the
mining of proprietary material only with payment of additional fees, which
are then shared with publishers. But pricing the value of negative results
and trends is difficult, since the actual articles are not read. The attendees'
general consensus was that the legal framework needs to be rearranged to make
compliance with rights terms and conditions easy to understand. Otherwise,
rights will be ignored, particularly in the consumer space.
Technology Tools Matter
Content companies can benefit from implementing incremental changes in work
flow, utilizing technology, and then carefully monitoring customer response.
Barry Bealer of Really Strategies, Inc. moderated an intriguing panel that
represented both the content and technology perspectives.
On the technology side, Bennett Zuker of Tacoda Systems described his company's
new audience-management approach to profiling users and identifying those of
high value to advertisers and publishers. Using this behavioral-targeting technology,
ads are delivered to users in multiple contexts. For example, women who were
identified as being interested in health and fitness received Snapple ads as
they went from channel to channel. The technology is intriguing, with initial
results that were better than those for contextual advertising.
Chris Scudder, CEO of ECNext, described successes in the online pay-per-view
arena, with market research reports that target department-level content buyers
who use credit cards. His presentation stood in sharp contrast to other commentary
at the conference that questioned the viability of pay-per-view. Because technology
by itself tends to be theoretical, the content providers on the panel described
the reality of integrating technology with people to profit from content. Ken
Doctor of Knight Ridder Digital described the challenges of getting electronic
copy from curmudgeonly copy editors and overextended librarians at 30 Knight
Ridder newspapers so his group could deliver a consistently formatted newsfeed
by 6 a.m. every day.
Keith White of Congressional Quarterly shifted to Adobe PDF delivery
to reduce print costs, but found that it saved the company's business after
9/11, when the paper couldn't be delivered to subscribers. This situation forced
a shift to even more electronic delivery, using Sealed Media for its DRM technology.
CQ experiments with incremental technology, including the use of RSS for its
free e-mail newsletter. This is the most effective means for selling high-priced
Changing Content Aggregation
Aggregators, both traditional and new, were featured at another panel moderated
by Thomas Product News Network's Paul Gerbino, who likens content to the maze
of wires behind his computer. Skip Prichard of ProQuest Information and Learning
described a traditional aggregation business that has heavy academic roots
but is seeking new distribution via course packs and vertical partners. It's
also exploring limited advertising possibilities.
Dawn Conway, vice president of content and business at LexisNexis, focused
on delivering value to users. She suggested flipping the current search model
to better meet users' information needs. Because it deals with IT professionals
and purchasing agents, the consultative sell is critical to the company's enterprise
market. The LexisNexis brand is not as established with these constituencies
as it is with legal professionals and librarians.
New aggregators represented the individual buyer market, which is easier
to penetrate than the enterprise market. In addition to promoting print subscriptions
and utilizing advertising to try to monetize as many channels as possible,
Doug Herrington, co-founder of KeepMedia, is using an online approach to selling
magazine articles (for a subscription of $4.95 a month). Other companies have
tried this approach with limited success. The question is whether the environment
has changed enough for this model to be successful.
Greg Reinacker, president of NewsGater Technologies, presented the software
perspective on aggregation. His company provides a tool that allows users to
choose RSS newsfeeds to read either in their business or consumer life. It's
essentially a self-aggregating model that can include blogs that aren't otherwise
RSS feeds are proliferating on the Web but have yet to be fully embraced
by SIIA Content Forum attendees. An indicator of growing acceptance is Thomas
Product News Network's successful use of RSS feeds for its industrial products.
Shore Communications also provides an RSS feed of its weekly newsletter so
that articles become available as they're posted. I expect that the majority
of e-zine publishers will offer RSS feeds by 2005, bypassing at least some
of the e-mail muck and mire.
More Industry Optimism
The final panel, moderated by Ed Keating of Easton Consultants, elicited
the most intriguing discussion. Michelle Horwitz of PR Newswire represented
a traditional business that's being adapted to the Web world. PR Newswire is
developing new products that can effectively monitor nontraditional publishing.
Plaxo was cited as the prime example of a company that was ignorant of negative
comments in blogs. It found that these comments filled the first three pages
of Google's results, negating marketing efforts. David Myers of Ovid described
moving into new technologies and integrating medical information with Office
2003 and patient records. These are challenging areas that require both credibility
and new rights.
Rafat Ali, editor and publisher of paidContent.org, a must-read e-zine for
this industry, spoke as a proponent for blogs and RSS. Christine Mason, CEO
of Open Road Technologies, described the artificial intelligence embedded in
her company's Watson product, a desktop search environment that's present in
applications such as MS Office, Acrobat, and Internet Explorera sort
of "Google local." This becomes the user's personal portal, a self-aggregating
model, and an extension of the self-aggregation provided by RSS news readers.
Watson has the potential to become the killer app for search and is capable
of trumping the integration of traditional aggregators into Microsoft Office
2003. The open Web, with blogs and listservs, represents valued content for
both users and their companies and is increasingly a factor in making money.
Overall, the tone of the 2004 SIIA Content Forum was cautiously optimistic,
as the established companies and newcomers seek to understand changing customer
needs and how to reach their markets. As usual, the makeup of the attendees
provided an indication of trends. With search engines moving closer to premium
content, Yahoo! and LookSmart both attended this year. Factiva, LexisNexis,
and Ovid were present once again, but Dialog was noticeably missing this year
and last. The most promising aspect of this year's event was the assortment
of new technologies that have the potential of becoming established in the
mainstream content business.
Jean Bedord is a senior analyst at Shore Communications, a research and advisory
service for information professionals. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.