Penny Leach SLA Conference 2011: A Focus on the discussion...
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Thursday, 16th June 2011

By Penny Leach

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SLA Conference 2011: A Focus on the discussion between content buyers and sellers

by Penny Leach

The SLA Conference 2011 took place this week in Philadelphia, which is known as The City of Brotherly Love. At this event, many wondered if there's much love lost between content buyers and their vendors.

Led by Barbara Hirsh and Stephanie Schubert, the Content Buying section of the Leadership & Management Division of SLA offered three sessions to explore the current challenges of buying and selling content (with thanks to the vendor partners for their support of the discussion around this topic, Dow Jones, FreePint, and BST America). All three sessions were very well attended, demonstrating a clear demand for guidance and discussion on content acquisition, as the economic cycle forces changes in content distribution and pricing models of sellers and in the budgets of buyers.

In the first session, Randy Marcinko of MEI facilitated a discussion specifically on content disaggregation, and the impact that publisher decisions to create exclusive or semi-exclusive deals in distributing their content can have on content buyers. A short poll conducted by Marcinko among publishers suggested that the primary reason for this step was to create revenue and avoid cutting titles altogether, and the second that they wanted to incentivise distributors to add additional functionality. Revenue improvements can be significant, even if customers are lost.

For content buyers changes such as these can increase workload – raising the number of contracts to review, making it harder to find content (and potentially making it invisible to would-be users), and adding extra suppliers and payment models in to the workflow mix. The failure by vendors to communicate the loss of content from their products was seen as particularly egregious. Most of the audience appeared to believe that it was the vendor aggregators driving the change, whereas Randy stated that in 90% of cases it is in fact the publishers’ strategy. Future mitigating solutions identified in the discussion included: neutral discovery tools to locate the content, deconstruction of content to enable specific extracts or raw data to be purchased, and more payment models.

In the second session, Bill Noorlander of BST America moderated a discussion between Cathy Porta, director of third party content management at PwC, Joan Morris, former SVP of information management at Lazard, Michelle Manafy, director of content at FreePint, Rohit Chowdhury, VP of content acquisition at InfoGroup, and Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra, representing both sides of the content acquisition process. Issues explored included: content delivery by offshored and outsourced services, vendor contact with end users, fair rate increases, usage and metrics, changes in corporate purchasing players, and redistribution clause guidelines and awareness. The lively Q&A session was continued during the Section’s breakfast the next day.

These were some of the points made during the panel, with a key message of "buyers beware!"

  • Do in-depth due diligence on the content offering of offshored and outsourced services, particularly concerning how the content promised is actually sourced and what usage rights come with it.

  • Check licence wording: how far can content be distributed, and what happens if a contract is not renewed? Do compliance and business requirements dictate amended terms? Don’t forget content is generally leased out for a set period and with set rules; the publisher is not handing over ownership to buyers.

  • Find a balance between direct contact between users and vendors for training and feedback, and the control of proselytisation and unauthorised trials. The mutual aim is enhancements and content packages that might justify fee increases.

  • Consider collecting internal usage statistics, via an in-house or third party database access tracking tools, and specifying external usage report requirements.

  • Put processes and policies in place to raise user awareness of distribution rights and mitigate the risk of possible licence abuse (remember that content owners may be monitoring for clues to inappropriate usage by clients as well as non-clients).

  • The trend is towards wider sharing of the responsibility for purchasing content products, including information professionals and users, and procurement groups, lawyers and market data departments. Different agendas may apply and different levels of understanding of the value of, and issues around, content. Relationships based on trust and transparency are key to success.

Whereas previous discussions focusing on the tension between content buyers and sellers frequently came to both sides digging in their heels, this year's talks demonstrated an increased willingness on both sides to open up to enable further discussion about the possibility of creating greater consensus in the marketplace on pricing models, usage statistics, and best practices for content development.

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