Here’s the Content


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Since the dark ages of the econtent business, publishers of various shapes and sizes have added revenue streams or generated exposure through content syndication. While the core business model remains virtually unchanged, the new wave of content being syndicated today delights information consumers and content creators alike. In particular, non-publishers like corporations are getting into the game. I suspect we're at the crest of a tsunami where upstart infomediaries develop a Google-like glow, users get what they need in unexpected places, and content is monetized in some wildly non-traditional ways adding to the bottom lines of content creators and smart econtent companies.

OK, let's start with a definition. I'd describe content syndication as distributing information outside of the primary place of creation/publication. For years, news publishers have syndicated stories to other news outlets or distributors, both online and in print. Services like Factiva and Dialog NewsEdge now make up a half-billion dollar market by making it easy for knowledge workers to access thousands of syndicated news sources. Or consider comic-strip writers who have long made the bulk of their (often substantial) income by syndicating their strips all over the world.

Outside of the media business, examples abound. Real-estate multiple-listing services essentially syndicate home listings, making it easy for brokers to compare what's on the market at any given moment. Airlines, car rental firms, and hotels benefit by showing listings through sites such as Expedia.com and Hotels.com, basically syndicated advertising based on price and availability.

Financial firms have been syndicating content for decades, pioneering new and interesting business models in the process. For example, foreign exchange dealers advertise their real-time bid-offer prices by syndicating through financial systems like Reuters and Bloomberg. Banks post, say, a market for the yen-dollar exchange rate through Reuters to their potential counterparts all over the world. Of course, the value is in seeing the aggregated rates in one place rather than having to visit a bunch of bank sites. Banks benefit from rate syndication through vastly expanded advertising of their bank name as a potential deal partner. Or consider the syndication of investment research reports to fund managers through services such as Thomson's First Call.

Syndication becomes fascinating as corporations begin to think like publishers and syndicate their content to generate sales leads or to promote their stock as an investment. I suspect we're only scratching the surface of what's possible in this new area and that businesses are just waiting to be born to exploit other forms of corporate content syndication.

Several years ago Regulation Fair Disclosure dictated that public companies had to disseminate information to all investors simultaneously. One thing that Reg FD changed overnight was the previously clubby corporate earnings conference call transformed from a few hand-picked institutional investors and friendly analysts to fully accessible by anyone. This led to syndication of earnings call information through services such as Open Company, a network operated by Shareholder.com. Open Company, which distributes its feed to hundreds of financial portals, is a great tool for companies to easily syndicate their investor information to the widest possible audience. While Open Company exists to syndicate financial information from corporations to potential investors, Bitpipe and TechTarget have quickly built businesses by syndicating corporate IT content such as white papers, product literature, and case studies to nearly a hundred IT and business-related Web sites. Bitpipe and TechTarget provide sales leads to the companies based on readership. Or consider Google, arguably the most dramatic form of a new syndication model at work. For corporations who want to get a message out to the marketplace, Google AdWords allow easy and low cost syndication of messages. AdWords also appear on Google partner search engine sites, and most recently have been syndicated to thousands of content sites. Companies syndicating messages through Google AdWords reach their target market at the best possible time—when people are searching or browsing for phrases associated with that company's products and services.

I suspect the next big wave will involve optimizing syndicated content behind corporate firewalls. Of course, syndicated business news and information services have thrived on corporate portals and intranets for years. But it will be fun to see if RSS feeds take off as a way to distribute syndicated content directly to corporate users. Or imagine if the Bitpipe and Google models were somehow combined inside the firewall, allowing targeted messages together with syndicated corporate-generated white paper content to be surfaced around contextual browsing and searching.