With traditional print reprints, media companies permit third parties to use their copyrighted content in specific, publisher-approved ways for a fee. Clients have no problem understanding the pricing model when they can see and touch a professionally produced bundle of reprints.
When the World Wide Web set content free—literally as well as figuratively—the underlying proposition of permissible content reuse was challenged.
Like many b-to-b media companies, Northstar Travel Media published directories associated with its magazine brands, but by the early 2000s, the future of the print editions was in doubt because they were expensive to produce and impractical to use in a digital world. Nonetheless, management knew there was great value in the extensive travel data in the Hotel & Travel Index and Official Cruise Guide that travel agents had relied upon for decades.
The company had a small revenue stream from licensing content from the guides and other databases in 2002 when Sheila Rice, VP-business development and licensing, was brought in to expand the operation. “I have a robust database of travel/hospitality raw data that can be reused in a variety of ways in the hotel/travel sector,” she said. “Once you [as a publisher] understand the value of the data—how proprietary, unique and special it is—you can take it and create additional iterations.”
Like reprints in underlying concept, the licensing agreements between Northstar and third parties keep the publisher in control of how the content is presented, where and how it can be used, and how it is branded.
“My licensing business is based on contractual agree-ments for very clearly specified permissible use for an annual fee,” Rice said. “I work with an attorney to make sure our rights are properly protected.”
Rice declined to reveal how much revenue her division brings in, but she said it is more than sufficient to cover the costs of the data-gathering enterprise.
“I license to the travel portals and search sites, such as Yahoo Travel and Sabre [the owner of Travelocity], but my licensing business includes companies in a variety of sectors,” such as hotels, market research and real estate, she said. Some clients come from far outside travel, such as a large music company looking to sell systems into the hotel sector. “They used our data to develop a target list,” Rice said. —M.G.