Selling content on the Web: It just might work

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Research and advisory firm Outsell last week released a report on the sale of content via the Internet that many trade publishers are likely to find encouraging.

In recent years b-to-b publishers—especially those that have traditionally practiced the controlled circulation model—have come to view the sale of existing content as a promising, if elusive, revenue stream.

I think a lot of publishers are trying to crack the Web commerce equation, said Louise Garnett, VP-lead analyst at Outsell.

People have talked about this topic for years, said David Nussbaum, CEO of Penton Media, but there have been precious few magazine-type companies that have been able to achieve their goals in this area. He pointed out that Penton is experimenting in this arena with its Expansion Management magazine, which has made data from its regular analysis of local school districts available for purchase on the Web.

Outsell’s report, “Web E-Commerce for B2B Publishers and Information Providers—New Channel Demands New Ways of Thinking,” concluded that b-to-b publishers and information providers can sell content on the Web at reasonable prices to audiences beyond their traditional customers. Often these new customers include top management.

Outsell conducted the study in partnership with ECNext, a company that touts its ability to help business publishers turn Web searches into content sales and subscriptions. Outsell analyzed a representative sample of 24,970 transactions conducted by ECNext clients, which included research firms, financial information businesses and b-to-b publishers. Outsell also conducted some phone interviews with ECNext customers.

Outsell found that among this sample, manufacturing and construction were the industries that purchased the most content online. Together, the two industries accounted for 25% of the online information purchases.

Additionally, the data showed that top-level executives were purchasing much of the online data. The most common buyers were individuals who held one of three titles: general manager, director or VP. The second most common group of buyers consisted of individuals holding the title CEO, president or COO.

The price points attached to the data being sold varied widely. The mean price, according to Outsell’s analysis was $152, but the median sales price was $30.

Outsell’s report concluded, the magic $499 price point is optimal for driving unassisted Web site transaction sales, and volume really happens at the price point less than $100.

Dick Ryan, CEO of Zweig White, a company created by the merger of Mercor, a trade publishing business focused on architecture and construction, and ZweigWhite, a building industry consulting firm, said his company has found success selling information products via the Web priced between $95 and $495.

Perhaps surprisingly, Outsell found that the up-to-date nature of the data was not critically important. One of the somewhat hidden side benefits of being Web commerce-enabled is that ability to sell content that is much older than 12 to 18 months, the report said. For b-to-b publishers, the implication appears to be that archived data or back issues could become an online revenue source.

Outsell also concluded that some marketing beyond search engine optimization was necessary to drive sales of online content. It said some of the tactics used by successful companies were strong e-mail campaign programs, paid search and contextual advertising.

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