Lexis-Nexis set to unleash huge database on Web

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Lexis-Nexis, one of the biggest information archives in the world, is coming to the Web.

The 25-year-old legal and business information services company is ramping up an ambitious Web strategy that includes the introduction next month of free, ad-supported content. The company is set to launch Lexis-Nexis Xchange in early November, offering discussion boards, original articles and other content targeting the legal community.

By early next year, the site will also let paying subscribers access the company's entire archive of more than a billion documents: "10 times larger than all of the data currently on the entire Internet combined," a draft press statement asserted. The company uses 500 computer servers to manage the online data--more than 30 years of news, law and business information from more than 18,300 sources.


John Hourigan, public relations manager at Lexis-Nexis, said the company is rolling out a series of Web initiatives in stages during the coming months. Until now, the information titan has offered simply a corporate Web site and limited subscription services. Lexis-Nexis Xchange will be a service site where paying subscribers can access the company's entire information database, and non-subscribers can also find free, online-only ad-supported content and forums.


"This is totally new for us, one of our first big forays into the Web," said Mr. Hourigan.

As of early November, Lexis-Nexis Xchange will introduce half a dozen interest areas targeting different legal practices, including environmental, criminal, bankruptcy, intellectual property and labor law, said Mr. Hourigan. The site already launched a test section for law students in late August.

Real Media, which Lexis-Nexis commissioned exclusively to sell and manage all aspects of the site's advertising, expects the site will be delivering 2 million to 3 million banner ad impressions per month.

"That's a conservative estimate," said Dave Morgan, president of Real Media.

Mr. Morgan said Real Media was finalizing agreements with charter advertisers in six exclusive categories, including word processing software, telecommuniations and automotive, though he declined to name specific advertisers. He said charter advertisers would share equally available ad impressions for five months for a rate based on a cost of $50 per thousand impressions. After the charter period, the CPM rate was likely to rise, he said.


Lexis-Nexis, owned by London-based publishing giant Reed Elsevier, has more than 1.2 million subscribers--lawyers, accountants, financial analysts, journalists, marketers and other business people. More than half of the subscribers use the system actively, generating more than 300,000 queries per day, according to Mr. Hourigan.

While the company will continue to let customers access the subscription archives through Lexis-Nexis' proprietary online software, it expects a significant migration to Web access, as users already need standard personal computers and modems to reach the proprietary system.

The company began providing Web access to segmented subscriber services last year with Lexis-Nexis Advantage, targeting smaller law firms with access to state-by-state legal records. By early 1998, the site is scheduled to offer access to its full archives.

Initially, the site will focus its ad-supported content to legal customers, though free services are likely to be developed for business clients, too.

Mr. Morgan said the Xchange site held strong promise for demographic ad targeting. Not only are most of Lexis-Nexis' subscribers high earners, but because they will use their existing passwords to access the site's database, much demographic information could be known about visitors.

He emphasized, however, that "we would only move forward [with ad targeting] with full-disclosure to users. Lexis-Nexis wants to approach that very carefully . . . with their users' consent and agreement."


Maureen Fleming, an analyst with research company the Gartner Group, said it is sensible for Lexis-Nexis to ease into online advertising revenue with original content instead of offering free, ad-supported access to its entire research archives.

"Information is becoming more of a mass business market activity," Ms. Fleming said. "Before, it was retrieved and accessed in a specialized setting, like a library. Now people are getting all kinds of information from the desktop, where there is no perceived notion of brand."

A company like Lexis-Nexis "needs to rebuild its brand in this new space," she said.


Introducing ads directly into the subscriber archives could be problematic, she added. "It raises issues of neutrality. If someone was trying to do a selection of a law firm [to hire] . . . the advertising support [may appear to] affect the order in which the information is presented."

Exclusive sales and management of the site's advertising is another coup for the rapidly growing Real Media. The New York-based company, backed for a minority stake by the Publicitas Group of Lausanne, Switzerland, already sells and serves ads for a network of more than 300 brand media sites, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Sun Times, The San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner and other newspapers.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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