Content is king ... or it's not. It depends on who you believe. Speakers at the Information Industry Summit (IIS) held in New York, Jan. 26-27, did agree about one thing: Content providers can survive. However, everyone seemed to have a different idea about how. From the analysts to the publishers to the up-and-coming companies featured in the "Previews" section of the program, everyone seemed to have a different, but bright, vision of the future.
As one might expect, opinions differed on the seemingly eternal "free versus fee" question. During Tuesday's CEO Outlook: In Search of New Business Models: Fear, Greed and Hope as Traditional Media Goes Into Free Fall, panelist Mark Anderson, CEO of Strategic News Service, said companies like Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg were the "early champions" in the content industry, having understood the "value of value" from the beginning. In other words, those companies knew they could charge for highly specialized, valuable content. Anderson was skeptical that advertising-based business models could be sustainable and suggested that subscription models would be the way of the future.
However, Anthea Stratigos, co-founder and CEO of Outsell, Inc., began the second day with a different take on things. Presenting Outsell's 2010 outlook for the information industry, Stratigos said that of 2,500 news
users surveyed, only 6% said they would move to paid news sources, a statistic that does not bode well for those hoping to put content behind the pay wall. Stratigos also stressed the importance of what she called
"The Age of Experience," in which users are no longer reading information but experiencing it. To that end, she also suggested that creating "platforms not products" would help drive companies to success.
The Information Wants to Be Expensive panelists seemed to agree with Outsell's assessment of the content market. The panel addressed The New York Times' decision to start charging for online access in 2011. Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media, said she thought the Times was simply waiting for other publishers to jump on board and "let the idea percolate through" readers' consciousness. Darbyshire also addressed some of the reasons her company had been so "disruptive" to traditional media, and she discussed what those giants could learn from the much smaller, more flexible company. "Gawker was built with measurability in mind," she said, which made it possible for writers to be compensated for page views, and encouraged them to build audiences.
One thing was clear, though. Innovation will be key. Opening keynoter Michael Hansen, CEO of Elsevier Health Sciences, kicked off the event by urging companies to be "counterintuitive" and to be "brave and bold." It was a fitting way to start the conference, which then gave way to Previews-short presentations from new companies, such as DeepDyve-an online rental service for scientific, technical, and medical research. The service allows users to view articles for as little as 99 cents, a sort of "Netflix for research," as CEO William Park called it.
In fact, DeepDyve and several other companies seemed to already be taking Stratigos' advice, providing "platforms." Parse.ly-another Preview company-delivers personalized content recommendations to users, who enter their interests in much the same way they would with Pandora or Netflix and receive suggestions from Parse.ly's database of 120,000 news and blog sites. Perhaps more importantly, Parse.ly CEO Sachin Kamdar announced the launch of Parse.ly Publisher Platform-also known as P3-and its search for partners. There is an API for developers looking to fully integrate the platform within a site, but there is also a simpler widget available.
A much different kind of company, ORLive, offered a look into the way it's using video to change healthcare.
The site provides surgical broadcasting-it works with hospitals and device manufacturers to create customized, interactive, video programs that demonstrate the latest surgical techniques and product innovations. The videos produced through these partnerships are then offered free of charge on the website as training tools.
In short, specialized content seemed to bob to the top of the IIS pond this year. Simply putting up a pay wall won't keep content providers afloat without added value, because
as Darbyshire put it, "You can milk that cash cow as long as you want, but that cow's still going to die."
(www.siia.net/iis/2010; http://parse.ly; www.deepdyve.com; www.ORLive.com)