A key problem facing publishers that offer paid content via the Web is that their premium offerings are often invisible to search engines.
Hidden behind firewalls, these pages make up the "deep Web." A new service from Yahoo! is designed to help Internet surfers dig into the deep Web.
The company last month announced the beta launch of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions. The service allows users to search online subscription content sources from a single search box. Without this service, users generally have to search their paid content sources individually and separately from the larger, free Web.
The service includes a number of b-to-b publishing and information sites, such as The Wall Street Journal Online, TheStreet.com, The New England Journal of Medicine, IEEE, Forrester Research and the Financial Times. Subscription news aggregator sites LexisNexis and Factiva are also participating in the beta launch.
Yahoo!’s announcement generated yawns among some observers and excitement among some others. "It’s difficult to identify likely users for Yahoo! Search Subscriptions," said a report from the Motley Fool. "People who frequently need to search multiple restricted-access sites probably already use databases like Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis. Yahoo! has brought a lot of innovation to the Web, but this latest service seems like a nonstarter."
On the other hand, research firm Outsell applauded Yahoo!’s move. Noting that the new service was "recognition that Web search engines have become a de facto starting place for all kinds of serious research," an Outsell report concluded, "this is a slam-dunk success for both Yahoo! and its partners."
Outsell said of the content providers: "These players have come to understand that they are leaving money on the table by not exposing their content for the vast number of searches conducted on the major search engines every day."
Tolman Geffs, managing director at media investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group, liked the move but pointed out it has its limits, especially for serious business users searching for information. "The wall it will run into is lack of metadata," he said, pointing out that LexisNexis and Factiva tag content they carry with, for example, dates, media source and subject that may make their search capability more useful than Yahoo!’s.
Alan Scott, CMO of Factiva, a joint venture between Reuters and Dow Jones & Co., said his company is participating in the Yahoo! service in order to provide customers access to Factiva in any way they want. "Our objective is to get into the work flow as many ways as possible," he explained. "We want people to use our product the way they’re most comfortable."
Barbara Lange, director-publications business development for IEEE, helps oversee the organization’s online content, which includes more than 1 million documents, some dating back to the 1950s. Much of this content is available only to subscribers.
Lange has modest expectations for IEEE’s participation in Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, but said the company is willing to experiment. IEEE already works with Google directly and is participating in Google Scholar, which offers access to academic content.
"I don’t expect it to drive huge dollars in terms of revenue," Lange said of Yahoo! Search Subscription. "It’s another door into our content, and it didn’t really cost us anything to try it."
Chuck Richard, an analyst for Outsell, speculated that if Yahoo! Search Subscription does work out well, the relationship between Yahoo! and these paid content providers may one day evolve into a revenue-sharing arrangement. In the meantime, Yahoo! has plans to expand the program.
"We are in the very early stages of providing our users with access to the deep Web through Yahoo! Search Subscriptions and, over the coming months, we plan to expand this program to further accommodate our users’ wide range of interests," Eckart Walther, Yahoo! Search’s VP-product management, said in a statement.