At present, Yahoo!'s best hope for success for its new Yahoo! Search Subscriptions program would seem to be dealing directly with publishers. Although only two of the seven sources launched with the service covered groups of publications, the limits on scope and dates of coverage were much less than those of database aggregators scheduled to add content in July. Conversations with the major database aggregators entering the program indicated very limited content, which is apparently designed not to experiment with reaching the world of Web users promised by Yahoo! but to avoid any threat to existing enterprise sales. Among the aggregator offerings, the most interesting came from Thomson Gale as part of a new pro-library initiative called AccessMyLibrary. (For details on Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, see the companion NewsBreak, "‘Fee' Web Content Accessed by Yahoo! Search Subscriptions," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleId=16174)
Searchers who go to Yahoo! Search Subscriptions (http://search.yahoo.com/subscriptions) now can designate any or all of the following seven sources for inclusion in their search results:
- FT.com (Financial Times, 60 days)
- Forrester Research
- IEEE publications (all technical articles since 1988 and selected older content)
- New England Journal of Medicine from the Massachusetts Medical Society
- TheStreet.com (current year)
- The Wall Street Journal (30 days of only articles referencing companies publicly traded in the U.S.).
All sources currently require users to have already subscribed in order to see the full text of content, although they can now identify relevant articles from any and all sources through an "opt-in" process at Yahoo! Search.
Additional content scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks will come from:
- LexisNexis AlaCarte!
- Thomson Gale
- ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)
I interviewed executives at several major suppliers in the program for details on what users could expect to get from the program and what the vendors hoped to gain.
Already in Place
Jerry Steinbrink, senior director and general manager of new media at ConsumerReports.org (CRO), said that Yahoo! approached them 6 to 8 months ago about this concept. He indicated that they were very receptive from the start, having had a very positive experience in dealing with Yahoo!. "The good thing about Yahoo!," said Steinbrink, "is that they think out loud and talk with people." CRO also seems to have overcome any "cannibalization" issues years ago. "We were very fortunate," said Steinbrink, "From the very beginning of CRO, our goal and philosophy were to develop different personalities and policies between CRO and the print journal. CRO is a research tool for shoppers and buyers, a complement to the print. We have almost half a million subscribers to both with a 20 percent overlap. Yahoo! Search is just another way to get our content visible to a larger group of people. One of the challenges for all subscription sites is to reveal the layer of content behind the pay wall. This is a perfect opportunity to test and see what works."
Initially, content going into Yahoo! Search Subscriptions will be limited to top-level content pages—"the ones that drive most traffic on our site and lead to the rest of our content," Steinbrink said. "Eventually, if things go the way we foresee, we will make practically everything we have available." A page on CRO already describes the new Yahoo! relationship, although it has no plans at present to add a Yahoo! Search general icon to the CRO Web site. Although CRO and Yahoo! have talked about using Yahoo!'s e-commerce service to handle subscriptions, "the systems don't work together yet, but there may come a day when that will happen."
Steinbrink was proud that ConsumerReports.org had archives on all three of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions' scheduled database aggregators—Factiva, LexisNexis, and Thomson Gale (although there was no specific indication that any of those services would provide archival access to the title). An annual subscription to CRO costs $26, but searchers who want a surrogate pay-per-view might consider the monthly subscription of $4.95. For that amount—less than what some pay-per-view outlets charge for a single article—a user could get all the articles needed that day plus a month of future searching.
Wall Street Journal Online
According to Jessica Perry (senior vice president for marketing and business development, Consumer Electronic Publishing, Dow Jones & Company), the initial Wall Street Journal content going into the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions program will come from the existing Yahoo! Finance feed already available on the main Yahoo! page. That feed limits coverage to only 30 days of articles referencing companies publicly traded in the U.S. Apparently the limitation stemmed from some technical difficulties. "They took the Finance feed because they wanted to get up and running, so they used the feed they had," said Perry. "It is very equities-based, but this is just the beginning. Over time, we expect them to crawl our entire site."
Dow Jones is widely considered a somewhat unique success story in its commitment to a subscription-based business model. "Although we are very supportive of a subscription strategy," Perry explained, "we do believe that some content should be given for free, such as headlines. Our experience so far with Yahoo! Finance has drawn a number of subscribers. When they can't read all the material, they come to us to subscribe. We're interested in expanding this approach."
There have been some technical hurdles to overcome, according to Perry. "We still have some technical work to do before they can do the entire site." The timing on the full access is "up to Yahoo!." Although the Wall Street Journal Online site (http://online.wsj.com) will alert its subscribers to the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions option, Perry admitted the current announcement was "not highly visible, but it's there."
As for future pay-per-view options, Perry said that Dow Jones plans to announce article-based pricing at a premium for nonsubscribers in a few weeks. Making the arrangements could be a family matter. Last week, Dow Jones announced it had hired Nathan Richardson, the former general manager of Yahoo! Finance, as senior vice president and general manager of online operations.
The Aggregators to Come
Factiva's marketing agreement with Yahoo! will enable Factiva subscribers to retrieve a narrow selection of Factiva articles targeted around consumer interests rather than business expertise. Factiva will offer a pay-per-view option to all users, even nonsubscribers. The price of pay-per-view for an introductory offer to nonsubscribers will be $1.50 an article or 10 articles for $9.95, according to Diane Thieke, director of global public relations for Factiva.
Thieke described Factiva's content specifics: "Beginning in mid-July, Factiva will provide to Yahoo! a daily selection of content in categories commonly searched on the Web, including sports, entertainment, health, and science. Yahoo! users who select Factiva when ‘opting-in' to the search subscription service will be able to view Factiva headlines in any search. Users who have a Factiva subscription can view the stories right from the headline listing and are presented with a Factiva search box to view the entire Factiva archive. Non-Factiva customers can view the article headline with the option to purchase the article or other subscription packages."
The initial content offered will cover only an archive of up to 90 days, according to Thieke. And it will exclude any material from Dow Jones and Reuters, the two owners of Factiva. Thieke explained: "Our parents' content isn't included in the beta program (and it was Factiva's choice to leave it out for the moment). We want to gather feedback on the beta first before making a wider selection of content available. We do expect that the beta program will be well-received."
Thieke stated: "Factiva is very upbeat about this agreement. Working with Yahoo! makes so much sense for our business. Web content complements Factiva information—we know that many of Factiva's customers use Yahoo! and other Web search engines for both personal and business searches. The alliance provides Factiva with broader access to more business users in their daily work flow and provides users with easier access to information within the business deep Web. What makes the agreement so exciting is that it will also drive brand awareness and incremental revenue for Factiva. Additionally, Factiva's strategy is to ensure [that] content is incorporated into our users' work flow. And being able to access Factiva within the subscriber's existing work flow will save time."
Despite the severe content limits in Factiva's attempt to "put [its] toe in the water" of the Web, according to Thieke, Factiva does "plan to do marketing around this relationship, and we're working out the details. What we know now is that there will be a link to Yahoo! Search Subscriptions from our Web site, and there will be a notification within our product. I'm sure there will be more, especially [since] we see this as an excellent way to familiarize more than 372 million people with Factiva services."
LexisNexis could not confirm the specific publications it would offer except to say that it would comprise an evolving subset of the News section of its pay-as-you-go AlaCarte! service. The dates of coverage were described as "significantly less than 6 months," but again "this could change over the course of the beta." The full AlaCarte! service (http://alacarte.lexisnexis.com) offers some 20,000 sources and some 4 billion documents extending back over decades in news, business research, legal, and public records sources. Operating via credit cards, AlaCarte! requires no subscription, but it does register all its users.
According to a representative, LexisNexis has chosen to participate in the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions beta as a way of creating "another channel to reach business searchers and improve the Web experience. A high percentage of users search and do not find the answers they need through the Web search engines. LexisNexis brings the premium content, archives, and the indexing capabilities, which will make searching more productive and convenient. … This beta is going to help us continue to enhance and refine the content we make available. We expect to learn more through this beta so we can continually refine the content we provide." Content should start to be available through Yahoo! Search sometime in July.
In probably the most interesting development, Thomson Gale (http://www.gale.com) will expose full files from its massive collection. However, even though identifying Gale content may become viable through Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, retrieving the full text will be limited to what a searcher's library has chosen to license. Thomson Gale is merging its connection with Yahoo! Search Subscriptions with other efforts to reach Web users in a program designed to promote its traditional library connections. Announced as a unique "groundbreaking library advocacy initiative," Thomson Gale's new AccessMyLibrary service (http://www.accessmylibrary.com) will combine use of library-licensed resources with direct access to good information through Internet searches. To enable the process, Thomson Gale has opened all its content for crawling and indexing by Yahoo! Search, Google, and other Web search engines, according to Gordon Macomber, president of Thomson Gale. Although the search engines will make the Gale content visible, only authorized users of libraries that have licensed the content will have access.
Under a beta program that currently includes some 5 thousand libraries, library systems, and consortia, authenticated users who select a Thomson Gale article from a search engine's result list will have the option to connect to a local library that licenses the article and access it freely. The authentication will rely on the user's library card number or other form of library identification, e.g., Michigan libraries accept drivers' licenses. Users who do not have a library card will be given a local library's address and phone number where they can get a card and learn more about the library's offerings. As they view the full text of an article, users will see "Brought to You by yourlocallibrary" on the right of the display, according to Macomber.
Currently, any library that licenses a Gale Web InfoTrac product can apply to join the program. In time, Macomber expects that all Gale e-products will participate in the program. Some aspects of Thomson Gale's AccessMyLibrary adaptation of the new Yahoo! Search Subscription service bear a resemblance to the library collection linking options introduced by Google Scholar, another "beta" program. Some resemble OCLC's Open WorldCat project with Google, Yahoo! Search, and other outlets.
Macomber expects the spidering of Gale's content to be complete some time in July. David Mandelbrot, vice president of Yahoo! Search, commented: "Through AccessMyLibrary.com, Thomson Gale is really leveraging the opportunities that can be created when electronic information providers are thoughtful about making their content accessible to major search engines."
Macomber also said that, in time, Thomson Gale hopes to support pay-per-view options, at which point the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions connection might reach the full breadth of Gale content. It will be interesting to follow pay-per-view developments. At present, Gale's pay-per-view options with third-party vendors range from as low as $1.50 to as high as $9.95 per article. (A future NewsBreak will cover Thomson Gale's AccessMyLibrary program in depth.)
While the great strength of database aggregators stems from the breadth of their coverage (which typically includes many thousands of journals) and the depth of their archives (which span decades), the amount of content scheduled for delivery through Yahoo! Search Subscriptions is so miniscule as to seem to serve no one's purpose. With such restricted coverage, Yahoo! could hardly expect to succeed in wooing established subscribers to these database services to switch to Yahoo! Search as their primary access route. Nor can one see how vendors expect to woo Yahoo!'s hundreds of millions of users to their sign-up subscription pages with only such limited, and sometimes even atypical, content to lure them. Until the content is more complete and more representative of the vendors' true offerings, it would even seem unwise for users to rely on Yahoo! Search Subscriptions as a substitute for direct access or even a cross-check on what exists on "fee" services.
Most of the seven sources currently available in the launch of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions already had long-standing content arrangements in place with Yahoo! at their main portal service. When Yahoo! representatives approached them several months ago, these providers were receptive to deepening their relationship with Yahoo! and only had a few technical challenges to work through. Yahoo! reports that numerous publishers are signing up to participate in Yahoo! Search Subscriptions.
One would hate to think of Yahoo! going through all the work of building a giant aggregation service from scratch, dealing with publishers individually, and possibly losing the opportunity to access the multidecade archives of aggregators. But, ultimately, search engines working with premium content need to ensure that they deliver what they seem to promise to searchers, particularly those rare Internet users who are willing to pay for content.
However, it's early yet, and we can only hope all parties will be flexible and adapt to open up new opportunities. Yahoo! has clearly created an attractive framework for content providers that's tied to fee-based business models to reach the broader open Web audience.