Why Some Publishers Still Don't Sell Data -- and Why More Should

Five Questions to Ask Anyone Who Wants to Buy Data

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Eric Porres
Eric Porres
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a publisher in possession of a good site must be in want of a fortune.

Given the size of the data opportunity, it's surprising how few publishers are taking advantage of it. Why don't more publishers sell their data?

We hear a number of reasons:

  • They're afraid they will lose control of the data -- that it will end up in the hands of third parties unknown to them, who will sell it to low bidders, thus further compressing their already un-high CPMs.
  • They don't have the tools to segment and offer their data, and are unaware that such tools may be obtained for the relatively low price of ... nothing.
  • Ignorant of their data's value, they don't see why they should bother putting in the time they imagine it would take to sift and sell it.
  • Privacy paranoia inspires some publishers to worry that fickle users will find them "creepy." Publishers who feel this way would rather not find out, regardless of the fact that readers who would leave, if data were sold, were never going to be terribly valuable to advertisers, anyway.
  • They want someone else to go first and dive in in a big way. In this case, given that a number of publishers have begun selling their data, they want a lot of someone else's to go first.
  • They're so small, or so niche, that they have almost no data to offer -- and thus little perceived value to gain.
  • The idea of potentially selling data segments, let alone branded data segments, is to their business what molecular gastronomy is to a BBQ pit.

Nonetheless, the word is getting out: The money in data is both dependable and increasing. Nor is rising publisher interest in data just about cash. Good data can also help you understand your audience on a deeper level. Who's coming to your site? How often? What else interests them? The answers may surprise you -- and may inspire you to do more to attract and retain particular visitors.

Moreover, if you lack in-market data, or don't cater to low-hanging direct response categories like travel, auto or shopping, a little low-cost or even free technology can help you bridge the gap between your offering and the demands of the marketplace.

Good data also enables advertisers to build better, more relevant ads. When you're reading a high-end magazine, you expect ads that are likewise high-end. In Vogue, an ad for X-ray goggles would be jarring. In the same way, a website that runs relevant advertising sends a subtle signal to its readers. Appropriate advertising is an important part of the audience experience.

So selling data to the right people can result in superior performance for publishers -- not only financially, but also esthetically. Doing so makes sense -- but few of us want to be described as "creepy." It's important to be careful.

If you're a publisher who would like to receive more of the value your site already creates, you may find it useful to ask yourself few questions if anyone who wants to buy your data approaches you:

  1. What are they going to do with my data, exactly?
  2. Can I control the supply and demand of my data to them?
  3. Can I control the amount or type of data that this party (or any party) will get?
  4. Can I set the pricing of my data? Why do I have to go by their pricing?
  5. Can I limit who my data is sold to?

Ideally, of course, the more places data goes, the more revenue will come back to the publisher. If control matters more to you, you may want to limit your data's use in advance. Audience trust is difficult to regain, so all interested publishers should ask these questions. As always, the time to ask them is before a problem arises.

Once the questions are asked and answered, the rewards of a robust data relationship can flow. Deeper knowledge of your audience, a greater ability to sell that audience, incremental revenue with no cost of sales: All of these await the publisher that knows how to get the most from a site's data.

Eric Porres is the CMO of Lotame Solutions, Inc.
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