Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Long live the King (content)

I have worked for most of 14 years in businesses founded on business-critical content with embedded analytics to enable more informed decision-making. See my LinkedIn profile for a list including Bloomberg and

This week's Advisen report on the expected $3.6b D&O loss from subprime has been an important story for insurance professionals globally. It's not a matter of if, but when, the tide will turn in the insurance cycle and Advisen has proprietary data sets which enabled the prediction.

We charged for the report ($200 for customers, $500 otherwise) and this has led to an intensive review of how we charge for our content and analysis. Advisen's is a blended model meaning that there is free, ad-supported content and we have password-protected content.

Taking stock of where consumers are willing to pay for content, the most notable story is whether Dow Jones' is to remain a subscription service. See a post with interesting comments here.

First, Dow Jones made their editorials free ( while charging smaller fees for certain columnists. Second, in Davos Rupert Murdoch confirmed that there will still be subscription-only content and that, in fact, subscribers should expect a price increase.

While only 4% of Dow Jones' revenues, annual revenue is around $75m, the envy of internet content publishers. Estimates are that WSJ page view traffic would have to increase anywhere from 3 to 12 times to replace subscription revenue with advertising revenue (Lehman Brothers analysts said 2x-3x while Bear Stearns said 12x). Also, while traffic would certainly increase, the impact on the massive print revenues are what keeps for subscribers only (for now).

Search guru Danny Sullivan blogged (here) about how WSJ has (knowingly?) allowed access to subscriber-only content via Google News.

The New York Times gave up on its online subscription product Select awhile back and according to Eliot Pierce, Vice President, Strategy & Operations there, the Online Grey Lady has never looked back. Real Estate classifieds and advertising are strong. These are different content offerings, the WSJ boasts some of the best reader demographics available to advertisers.

Here in the UK, the Financial Times just announced a blended model for where "casual readers" get free access to 30 stories/month. And, oh by the way, FT content is no longer included in Factiva's subscription fees, it's now a big premium (see post here).

The and Bill O' both offer premium subscribers additional content and also online chat access to Bill and to analysts like Jim Cramer.

On the other hand I worked for Alan Meckler long enough to hear his many arguments about why subscription models don't work (this was before he built an images business). Certainly search engines don't find password-protected content, depricvng publishers of valuable traffic.

While business models and consumer take-up vary, there is one irrefutable truth: If you have content that is business-critical, consumers will pay for it. Our subprime report is a good example.

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