KNOW WHAT YOU'RE PAYING FOR
VC Fred Wilson has a post on one of his portfolio companies, a vendor of premium content information, that has just launched a web storefront (beta of course). Alacra Store's parent company is Alacra, which provides (quote from their website):
"Alacra is an online service designed exclusively for users of business information. Users search Alacra via a set of robust, sophisticated tools designed to locate and extract business information from the Internet and from the Alacra library of premium content.
The company’s team of information professionals selects, categorizes and indexes more than 45,000 sites on the Web containing the most reliable and comprehensive business information. Simultaneously, users can search more than 100 premium commercial databases that contain financial information, economic data, business news, and investment and market research.
Alacra provides the requisite information in the appropriate format, gleaned from such prestigious content partners as Thomson Financial™, Barra, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Factiva, Mergerstat® and many others."
Although not a user of the company's services, I've been aware of them for a while, particularly since the launch of their corporate blog last year.
In his post, Fred invites users to try the search, specifically:
The next time you do a web search looking for information about the size of the mobile gaming market, you might want to do that search at the Alacra Store instead of Yahoo! or Google.
I agree that Alacra's storefront is a good first step towards opening up. If you check out the search that Fred suggested, on the "mobile gaming market", you'll see quite a list of reports that may be applicable to the search, and also many that may have SOME references to your query, like this one, titled "Wireless Telecommunications Services in the United States".
As a professional in the financial services industry, I've been a customer of this type of premium content from "closed" services for most of my professional life of over two decades.
Whether it's Lexis/Nexis of old, to the latest in cutting edge consulting company research on niche topics, I've had to make decisions on when to spring (mostly corporate money), on studies that range in cost from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
However, the problem then, and now with this first beta version of Alacra Store is this: I have very little additional information, save buying the report, to judge what I'm buying. If I'm lucky, the vendor may be a brand I recognize, like Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. But more than likely, there will be a number of vendors I will not recognize. Then my decision has to be based on
- the title of the report,
- the date of publication,
- the number of pages,
- word count,
- the cost of the report,
- and a "free" sample if available.
That's it...and as you can from the mobile gaming example, there are literally THOUSANDS of reports to choose from.
No sorts are available, by source, by price, by pages, by date, etc.
A great "Open" move for Alacra would be to allow both paying and first time users from the web to do the following:
- Rate the various studies if they've been paying customers. Display the ratings for all to see.
- Allow comments on the various reports from all users. They can put in a "review delay" if needed, to make sure that users are not disclosing proprietary particulars from any given report, but are able to describe their experience with the report in question.
- Sort all the reports at least by some of the variables mentioned above.
- Allow users to tag the reports, true Web 2.0 style.
- Communicate their comments, tags and rankings with others via email, IM, etc. Sharing this with colleagues can go a long way to making fast decisions on content purchases, and may even increase the amount of stuff that is bought.
- A radical move would be to offer an eBay style auction pricing option for their content vendors. After all, the content producers are competing with other vendors on content that while valuable, has a SHELF LIFE, just like an airline seat.
- "Look inside the report" feature like Amazon offers on many books.
- "Search inside the report" feature like Google has been trying to offer. Limit the results if they wish to a few sentences, or redacted sentences with the search words showing (like a de-classified government document)
These steps and others, would be a major differentiation from how premium content has been sold online to date, mostly through "closed" systems. Let users get a sense of what they might be buying, especially when they might be paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars for it.
After all, Amazon, eBay and others have been offering many of the above features since Web 1.0, with average prices of $20 or more.
I know much of what I'm suggesting is not new to the vendors of premium content. Having worked with many of them directly a few years ago in the first phase of the commercialization of the web, I realize that there are substantial issues of business model threats/conflict, AND political issues in terms of management of people, resources and relationships. But nevertheless, they need to be addressed.
In a post a few days ago on future opportunities for today's online retailers, I made a tongue in cheek reference to Priceline finally figuring out that allowing their customers to "Shop and Compare" may be a good idea.
The vendors of premium information have similar lessons to learn as they take baby steps into the World Wild Web.
And who better to help them gently down this path than an aspiring Web 2.0 company like Alacra?
A post on the Alacra blog had some good points on the inefficacy of general tags as used in consumer services like Technorati, Del.icio.us and others for premium content databases.
My reaction would be that a quasi-proprietary, semi-structured, but still open, approach to tags in a premium content environment might be required.
This approach would require general web users to work within the parameters set for these "professional tags".
Within this more structured syntax, users would be able to create relevant tags like "term sheet" etc., that have more relevance in a professional database.
It'd be Web 2.0, with a coating of old-fashioned library classification technology.
"1) Better abstracts and/or keyword in context. This is our top priority. We need to give users as much information as possible about what they’re about to buy before they buy it. The challenge is the varying amount and types of metadata we get from the publishers. But we’re working on this now. Ideally, we’d like to do “search inside this report.”
2) Sort the results. Also working on this. On Google, users typically stop looking after the first page or two of results. Our experience with business information searching is that searchers will look through lots of results for an answer to their question. So we need to allow users to sort through results by date and price in addition to type of content which is deployed now."
More at AlacraBlog...thanks for the response, Alacra.