In the Move From Free to Fee, Where Lies B2B?

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So Why Pay For B2B Content?
Publishers are experimenting with paid services online, but there's no one formula for success. "There are different models even online," says Rafat Ali, editor of paidContent.org, an independent service for the digital media. "Publishers need to be clear about what is paid, and therefore more valuable, and what is free. The publisher needs to articulate why someone needs to pay—why is it more valuable?"

 Jonathan Lewin of eMeta outlines five things publishers can do to make content valuable enough to command a fee from users:
• Increase geographic distribution, particularly outside the home country.
• Create good archives and search. People don't want to store lots of data in print and will pay to get at databases and data over time.
• Build taxonomies so users can link to information faster.
• Add personalization so people know what's important. • Permit transactional sales that augment subscription revenue.

Lewin also points out that there's an added, non-monetary benefit to publishers who offer their content on the Web: customer intelligence. "What people are using and how is valuable information for B2B publishers," he says. "You can't get that with print."

Despite all the talk about the preponderance of B2B sites being free, many successful paid models exist. Frank Anton, president of Hanley-Wood, offers his company's online provision of building plans as an example: "eplans.com is a fee site for purchasing plans to build a dream house. We've gone from 100% print sales to 30% online sales in three years. We're generating $3 million a year selling house plans online." While on the surface, this could be seen an example of an ecommerce model, this also provides a B2B content distribution channel for Hanley-Wood.

Archives are another area that many publishers focus on. David Sweet, marketing director of Investor Relations Magazine says, "The delineation of what should be free and what should incur a fee is an issue we're struggling with at the moment. We're going to make the archive available only to subscribers and have teasers available for free on the site."

A particularly interesting paid B2B archive comes not from a B2B publisher, but rather a consumer one. Recently, The National Geographic Society has made 10,000 of its photographs available online for B2B uses such as advertising and annual reports. Maura Mulvihill, vice president of the company's image collection explains saying, "Image buyers are now accustomed to browsing for images online and in many cases completing the transaction by purchasing and downloading images from the Internet. Now the image buyer does his own research online at www.ngsimages.com, selects an image, and can pay with a credit card and download the image—all in minutes. We have thousands of registered users from the publishing, commercial, and advertising industries."

Certain specialized email newsletters command a subscription fee. "The Microsoft Watch newsletter is selling at $400 a year now and it's going really well," says Ziff Davis' Louderback. "If we can develop more we will, he continues. "I believe that in a few a few years you'll see more of a mix of paid and free with Ziff Davis. We need to figure out what content is compelling for a paid model and develop it."

"Email newsletters are becoming more important," adds paidContent.org's Ali. "Email newsletters are the new surfing tool in the sense that people don't have time to go to many sites, so they get the content into their inbox and surf there. For publishers, newsletters are important revenue generators."

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