Go Forth and Syndicate: Five Questions to Ask When Getting Started

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If you're considering syndicating your content, you're not alone. "I probably get twenty-five to thirty inquiries per week," said Curt Prince, director of content at the syndication company YellowBrix. In fact, he has gotten so many calls and emails from providers who want the company to distribute their content that he added a form to the company's Web site. It lets him prescreen providers who use it to describe their offerings. Clearly, many content companies are hoping to reap the rewards syndication can offer-rewards such as being able to leverage brands and generate additional revenue streams. If you want to syndicate your content, there are several issues you need to consider before you get started. Here are the top questions you should discuss with any syndication company you're thinking about working with.

Clearly, many content companies are hoping to reap the rewards syndication can offer-rewards such as being able to leverage brands and generate additional revenue streams. If you want to syndicate your content, there are several issues you need to consider before you get started. Here are the top questions you should discuss with any syndication company you're thinking about working with.

1. What type of business model does the syndicator use?
All syndicators are not created equal. Each offers a unique approach to collecting and distributing content. Prince noted that the YellowBrix model is a little bit different from the ones used by such companies as ScreamingMedia. "Their goal is to get as many content sources as they can, but that's not necessarily YellowBrix's approach," he said. "We try to purchase the best content possible to cover a certain channel or a certain vertical. Once we have that content, our real product is slicing and dicing it and presenting it to the customers so they don't have to do a lot of searching for articles."

Another model is represented by Kinecta, which offers technology and services for companies that want to use the do-it-yourself approach. "We provide the infrastructure that enables providers to syndi- cate their content directly to their partners or customers," said David Burke, Kinecta's vice president of marketing. "Using our technology, content owners can control the syndication relationship, but it does require that they purchase and maintain the infrastructure themselves as opposed to using an intermediary like a ScreamingMedia, which provides infrastructure and then also manages the relationship with the customer and takes a certain percentage of the revenues."

2. What type of content are syndicators looking for?
If you want to work with a company like ScreamingMedia or YellowBrix, you'll need to find out about competing content providers already being syndicated. Unless you offer especially high quality information on topics not already covered, the syndicator might not be interested in your product. "We take new content only in specific categories," said ScreamingMedia executive vice president Marianne Howatson. "There are a couple of things we're always concerned about. One is that we don't want to have content that there isn't a lot of demand for. Another is that we don't want to disappoint content owners. We want to make sure we can do a good job selling their content so they'll make good revenues."

"We already have lots and lots of news content and general-interest information," she added, "and we have a lot of finance, technology, and business information; however, there are some vertical areas-agriculture, for example-in which we're always looking for more content."

YellowBrix's Prince said, "I'm going to know instantly whether or not I want your content based on the market studies we've done. If you have yet another entertainment site, I'm probably not even going to look at it twice because there's so much entertainment content out there. If you have specific financial information that might be interesting to our business clients, then I'm going to take a look at your site."

David Scott, vice president of marketing at NewsEdge (www.newsedge.com), noted that his company focuses on syndicating business-to-business information. "The content must be relevant to the target market," he said, "and it should have a certain volume that makes sense to syndicate. If somebody has a publication that comes out twice a year, it could be really terrific content, but that's not necessarily something that would benefit from syndication because it just doesn't have the sort of frequency necessary to generate interest from the customer base."

3. How should you format content for syndication?
"XML is the preferred format for content providers these days," said Prince. "Everybody likes XML because it's easy, and it's pretty much becoming a universal format."

Howatson at ScreamingMedia noted that "many magazine and newspaper publishers have their content in Quark, so what we've done is set up an alliance with R.R. Donnelly's Premedia division. Premedia takes Quark and converts it into XML. Then the publisher can recoup that investment by distributing it through our networks."

Publishers can syndicate their content through ScreamingMedia's global digital network or they can use ScreamingMedia's Syndication!Connect technology and services to parse, normalize, categorize, and integrate content directly into their subscribers' platforms.

Scott noted that the provision of formatting and other technical services to a content provider is a nice benefit that some syndicators offer. "For example, let's say a newspaper delivers a straight textual feed of its content to NewsEdge. The content will be syndicated to all our clients, but at the same time we'll provide a feed back to the publisher. It will be coded and tagged and turned it into an XML format. It also will be sliced and diced into industry topics. The publisher will be able to put it on the newspaper's own Web site very easily. So, in a sense, what we're doing is providing outsourced electronic expertise to the publisher as part of our deal with them."

At Kinecta, Burke noted the company's syndication technology "is based on an emerging industry standard called ICE, which stands for Information and Content Exchange. It's a standard that allows one to basically package and distribute any type of format, so we really don't restrict the format with which our customers distribute their content."

He noted than many of Kinecta's customers distribute content as XML, "but many also distribute HTML files, or they distribute the most popular office document formats such as Word or PowerPoint. You also could distribute a PDF file, any type of video or audio file, or even a link to a streaming file."

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