Syndication Then, Now, and Beyond

I have been in and around content syndication since 1983. Just writing that sentence makes me feel like an old-timer, yet I remember as if it were yesterday how bond prices and news were the fuel of the bond-trading work I did right after college. Young men bellowed into multiple telephones—buying and selling as a result of the syndicated prices and news that appeared on the Reuters and Dow Jones Telerate screens.

While the technology has changed a great deal from the old “green screen” TV monitors of several decades ago to the digital data feeds of today that deliver content onto PCs together with a myriad of ways to chart, graph, slice, analyze, and alert—the data itself is much the same. Later in my career, I worked for the digital news syndication division of Knight-Ridder and for NewsEdge, creating content-syndication models for making news valuable to professionals in corporations, government agencies, PR agencies, and law firms. These syndication models continue to make up a multi-billion dollar industry and provide significant revenue streams for Reuters, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, LexisNexis, and many others.

New content-syndication businesses, which seem to appear out of nowhere, quickly grow into large, important players. For example, consider TechTarget, a company that helped pioneer the business of syndicating corporate-developed whitepapers. The founders of TechTarget recognized that technology companies including Cisco, Dell, EMC, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Symantec will pay to deliver targeted content directly to the IT decision-makers in enterprises. The corporate content-syndication model has proven successful enough that TechTarget announced plans in February 2007 to raise as much as $75 million in a proposed initial public offering. Another syndication model that led to a successful IPO is, a company that raised $60 million in February 2007. builds on-demand software around compensation content developed through proprietary research and polls of thousands of businesses and individuals. The resulting data is then syndicated to organizations and used by HR executives to make hiring and compensation decisions.

As these examples show, syndication is not just about news. I’d say the best example of a company identifying a new type of data to syndicate is Google. Many people think that Google’s success lies exclusively with its search engine. While search technology certainly delivers end users, what turned Google into a multi-billion dollar business was the foresight to identify the syndication of self-serve contextual advertising based on keywords and phrases. The ability for any marketer to use Google AdWords to create an advertising program in just minutes and then deliver those advertisements to reach buyers on the countless websites and blogs in the Google AdSense syndication network revolutionized web marketing. As a result, Google’s market cap as of this writing is a whopping $130 billion.

Even news syndication is morphing into new business models as three newer companies demonstrate. Newstex syndicates blog content that it first runs through a news-processing engine to transform each blog post into a distinct news item. The content is licensed directly from bloggers and sold to downstream aggregators and enterprise customers as a consolidated blog feed. Mochila has developed a self-service product for creators of content and those who need content to buy and sell on an individual article (or multi-media) basis. Drawing on the experiences of more traditional news syndication that required a subscription to content such as the Associated Press, Mochila turned the model around and offers buyers and sellers the ability to syndicate one article at a time. Behind the scenes, a robust permissioning engine drives the business. News as a social-media platform is also fascinating. Digg was one of the first out of the gate with such a model, but I’m looking forward to the impending launch of Congoo’s News Circles.

News Circles offer a way for anybody to quickly create their own news channel to share (it literally takes two minutes to create one). As people select from the 450 content channels on Congoo, they literally become an editor and then share their editorial vision with friends and the public. Content owners get more exposure based on the content that is selected. News Circles will launch in the second quarter of 2007.

Virtually any category of electronic content can (and will) be syndicated. How about syndicated feeds of auction prices from eBay? Certainly a daunting challenge from the taxonomy perspective, but imagine the secondary revenue stream that eBay could build. Thousands of possibilities exist for smart companies to succeed with syndication.