I led an eCommerce seminar this past week at the Magazine Publishers of America. During the presentations, one of the attendees asked me a very critical question. When a magazine publisher wants to purchase someone else's content and use it on their web site, is the magazine publisher the buyer or seller in this transaction?
Before you say that a publisher should pay for content on their site, let's look here at who benefits from this transaction. Say I am the publisher of HotRod magazine, just to pick something at random. I want to do a deal with two guys that have assembled a web-accessible database. The database has to do, say, with wheels from obscure Harleys of the 60s. The two guys (call them HarleyWheels.com) have put together a really nice site, and have pages of deals on wheels from around the world, linking buyers and sellers galore. However, they are just two guys and need more traffic to their site to afford the luxury lifestyle that they wish they could get accustomed to. They need more traffic too to make their eCommerce site more useful for potential shoppers. So signing up with HotRod magazine would benefit them by bringing them more exposure, and perhaps being able to expand their database to engine parts, headlamps, and other chrome-based parts.
Meanwhile, HotRod magazine is woefully deficient in the motorcycle department. They need this content desperately, because an upstart web site called MotorMouth.com has become their chief competitor. The MotorMouth folks have pages of parts galore and starting to draw lots of traffic. Worse yet, the print ad sales reps from HotRod are starting to hear more and more about the competition from these MotorMouth guys. So HotRod needs the HarleyWeels to beef up their own content, and remain competitive.
This isn't just some obscure example: I have heard many situations like this over the past year. So it isn't so clear cut -- so what? The lines between buyer and seller are coming down quickly. Generally, the bigger the site or brand name, the better the chances are they are on the selling side (meaning that they will get some money for their traffic, or content, or whatever). Godzilla marketing campaigns to the contrary, size doesn't always matter. Eventually, lawyers are engaged and the deal is struck, one way or the other.
[Speaking of engaging lawyers, I won't even get into the side issues that Harley Davidson owns their trademark, and might come down on our two friendly web gurus because of the nature of their domain name.]
Now comes the tricky part. When HotRod licenses the content from the Harley guys do they run ad banners, frames around the existing Harley site, or take some of the content and redo it to fit into their editorial style on the HotRod web site? Or maybe all of the above? How much do they charge for a referral (or pay) if someone starts at a HotRod page, goes to the Harley site and never returns?
Wait, there is more. HotRod magazine isn't just concerned about the competition from MotorMouth.com anymore, but from the search engine sites (okay, I'll call them portals for now) such as Excite, Lycos, and Yahoo. Say Yahoo starts up their own mini-motorcycle site, or worse yet, say they buy up those MotorMouth guys and rename it Yahoo Cycles. Now we have a really fine mess of things for our folks at HotRod: they are clearly in the crosshairs.
The HotRods of the world will also have to protect their rear flacks as well. Complicating things even further are the Matt Drudges of the world: self-taught nudnicks that can bring tears to the eyes of our more professional reporters. Hopefully, this is still a very small group, but we all know it will eventually increase. All it takes is a web server and a few rumors that might be true.
Not only can't we tell whether or not we are a buyer or seller of information, we can't even figure out who are the publishers and who are the portals anymore. Back in the good old days of the Internet, say 1990, we didn't have these problems. Indeed, I can remember some management meetings at PC Week where we thought our biggest competition was coming from Business Week, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes: that was where the computer ad dollars were going in those simpler times.
CMP Media has fired the latest salvo in this war and they have chosen a new target. This week they redesigned their web site. All of a sudden, you aren't in Kansas (or Manhasset) anymore. This page has a remarkable resemblance to Yahoo's or Lycos' front door. It isn't coincidental: CMP wants to be your entry point to searching the net, just as the "traditional" search sites have been in the past. So are they "just" a publisher, a portal or a destination? Geez, I have no idea anymore.
Now, someone like CMP is pretty clearly in the business of being a publisher: just take a look at their products, a bunch of computer magazines such as Network Computing, Information Week, and Windows. No debate there. And they clearly feel the pinch coming from those portal guys. As I mentioned in WI #110, the search sites are expanding beyond just offering search tools: the latest example of this trend is Yahoo's acquisition of Viaweb, a low-end but easy-to-setup eCommerce hosting service. Viaweb is so easy to use that anyone can start up a store, just by using your browser and following the instructions. Now they are called "Yahoo store," adding to their constellation of services.
Back in those dark days when I took Econ101 I learned about trying to identify the beneficiary and the cost bearer. But with the web, these roles and rules no longer apply. It will make for some interesting times.
Even though Windows Sources magazine is going through a conversion from newsstand to controlled circulation and a name change to Windows Pro, I'll still be contributing a monthly column, to be called NT Intranets. My latest article is on using Netscape's Directory Server.
My latest article for Computerworld on enterprise email strategies can be found here. Speaking of enterprise email, my book (with Marshall Rose) on the subject will be out in stores shortly.
Finally, a plug for some good work from two colleagues. Robert Seidman and Mark Hurst have written an excellent report, called In Search of eCommerce. They walk through several popular web storefronts, including Amazon, Dell, and Apple, and show what they like and what they don't. It is one of the best written and well-grounded things I have read in a long time on this subject. If you buy the report this week and mention the code words "Web Informant," you can obtain a significant discount and pay $1195. There is also a sample chapter posted on their web site.
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