At a time when anyone with a computer and a bit of Internet know-how can access an ever-expanding world of free content, you may wonder how fee-based content services survive. They are doing it through innovation and by finding ways to better aggregate, filter, and deliver content in ways the free Internet does not offer. Savvy content companies such as LexisNexis, Factiva, and Thomson (to name but a few) continue to thrive because they offer services and functionality that an individual can't get on the open Web, even with powerful search engines, RSS tools, or news portals like My Yahoo!. This is not even taking into account the massive quantity of content available through subscription services but not on the Web.
Premium content services offer access to a variety of content—some locked in databases—that free services cannot reach, but most importantly, they filter this information, remove redundancies, and help make sure only the most relevant material reaches the end-users' desktops. What's more, these vendors are working to incorporate valuable content into the daily workflow of individual users. With offerings like the ability to access Factiva content from the Research Pane in Office 2003 or LexisNexis content from your portal home page, these services increasingly provide ways to access information seamlessly without even requiring workers to open a separate tool or log onto a service through a browser.
What Makes Premium Content Primo?
Tony White, an analyst with the Yankee Group, estimates that the premium content market produces somewhere between $50 and $100 million in annual revenue. White points out that the market has even greater potential when you factor in in-house researchers. "I would have to qualify this because that estimate is just subscription fees. Custom taxonomies would increase fees paid. There are also a lot of people in legal and medical firms who are paid to do the same thing. In-house market would quadruple that number."
Something that prompts companies to move from the in-house model—employing individuals solely for the purpose of performing extensive research projects—is the difficulty in incorporating the information these independent researchers find into the daily work routine of the employees who consume this content. This is where premium desktop vendors enjoy a significant advantage, says John Blossom, president and senior analyst at Shore Communications, Inc. "Delivering content from ‘A' to ‘B' is no longer the primary value of an electronic publishing service, nor is assembling content in a proprietary database that separates premium content from a user's own work environment," Blossom says.
"Products such as Thomson's WestLaw or Thomson Financial's ThomsonOne, LexisNexis, and other providers allow users to integrate premium content with local content. Others, like Factiva and OneSource, concentrate more on custom solutions that integrate with other software packages from major portal providers and integrators, though many of the others have integration solutions also," Blossom says.
White believes the primary value these companies add is the ability to filter content, build taxonomies, and provide information not freely available on the Internet. He points out that a Google Search could generate hundreds or even thousands of hits and that the strength of the premium vendors is their ability to sift down to the most relevant documents.
White says that Yankee Group subscribes to Factiva and uses it to track analyst references in the press. "We use Factiva to collect all of the citations of our analysts. They get collected and pushed to our VP of marketing. It's highly filtered, so if I have a quote published in one publication and others pick it up, it only appears once in the report," White says. In Factiva, the information is clearly laid out and redundancy is transparent. "I've compared my quotes in Google and the difference was incredible. It would be something like 5 in Factiva, compared to 80 in Google, and 80 was a highly redundant figure. The Factiva results provide a better perspective about how widespread a quote actually is," White says.
Going with the Flow
In order to be relevant for workers, and to justify the cost of the service, content vendors are looking for ways to better incorporate the information held in their content repositories into the daily workflow of the individual workers who need to put the information to use. Blossom sees this as a way for the premium content vendors to differentiate themselves. "With workflow integration, aggregators and publishers provide applications that enhance the ability of users to solve specific tasks such as litigation management, financial analysis and trading, scientific research, and so on," Blossom says.
Alan Scott, Factiva's CMO, says that for the last several years, the company's entire focus has been on workflow integration. "Our whole premise is to give our customers the information they need, but only the information they need when they need it, where they need it, in a format they can use it. We've been on a mission for the last several years about how we can integrate our content into a workflow," Scott says.
Blossom thinks this move towards workflow integration is a good one, but wonders if this is enough to sustain premium content vendors and provide a way for them to compete with free content. So far, he says the evidence suggests, at least in financial markets, that they need to do more. "Integration tools are important, but they don't guarantee that the traditional value of premium content will be protected as a result. After nearly two decades of using technology to integrate financial content into client/server-oriented networks at financial institutions, the price of financial content continues to spiral downward," Blossom says.
One way to add more value is to make it easy to find all of the content a worker needs in one place with a single point of contact and a single bill. This is the strategy Thomson Dialog uses, according to Tom Tankelewicz, the company's senior director of product development. When Dialog purchased NewsEdge a couple of years ago, one of the challenges they faced was integrating the two repositories of information. Developing a single platform not only simplified delivery, it brought all the information together into a single interface for the customer. "This gives customers one destination to go to where they can get access to information, one federated search, across our entire set of business and news, having smart terms and a single taxonomy across content. This brings the platform together and also allows customers to get one bill," Tankelewicz says.