As part of its intense competition with Google, Yahoo! Search has now begun to extend its reach beyond the free content of the open Web and into the fee-based territory of the deep Web. With the beta launch of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions (http://search.yahoo.com/subscriptions) in the U.S. and the U.K., Yahoo! will enable users to simultaneously search multiple online subscription content sources and Web sources from a single search box. Initial content sources include ConsumerReports.org, IEEE, Forrester Research, the Wall Street Journal Online, the New England Journal of Medicine, TheStreet.com, and the Financial Times. Other major traditional vendors—Factiva, LexisNexis, Thomson Gale Group, and ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)—have announced participation in the new service with selected content on the way in the next few weeks. Yahoo! Search can now promise that using its Web search engine will ensure that users can at least discover—and compare—some of what they must pay to see along with what they can access for free.
Eckart Walther, vice president of product management at Yahoo!, Inc., stated, "We are in the very early stages of providing our users with access to the deep Web through Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, and over the coming months we plan to expand this program to further accommodate our users' wide range of interests. For the first time, publishers can bring content to their subscribers on a broad scale through a leading search engine." Tim Mayer, director of product management at Yahoo! Search, noted that the main goals of the program for Yahoo! are "to provide value to users and acquire users from our competition. We want people who already subscribe to other publications and know that they can get results [from those publications] plus Web material. Journeying among subscriber sites in sequence is tedious, especially when you end up empty."
To use Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, users check off services from a list of subscription content sources (http://search.yahoo.com/subscriptions). When a search is conducted, the subscription content is displayed in a separate module above the standard Web search results on the top page of results. Or users can search only subscription accounts and skip the Web searching. Users can also choose to permanently add lists of subscription services they want tapped every time they use Yahoo! Search via the preferences page. Though users may choose to view results from services to which they do not subscribe (e.g., just to see what they're missing), only users already subscribing at the content provider's Web site may view full text of subscription content. Once the user has clicked on the item he wants, Yahoo! switches him to the vendor's service. The vendor handles the authentication process, according to Mayer. "If we send them to the Wall Street Journal Online, for example, and the [users have] a cookie in place, then it will send them straight through to the article. If they don't have a cookie, then they'll have to log in."
As aggregators come into Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, sources may be duplicated. For example, when we interviewed Jerry Steinbrink, senior director and general manager of new media at ConsumerReports.org (CRO), he proudly informed us that its publication was available in all three of the aggregators—Factiva, LexisNexis, and Thomson Gale—which were scheduled to add content to the service over the next few weeks. According to Mayer, Yahoo! "has the technology to remove duplicates. We haven't used it on content from Factiva and LexisNexis yet. It might work differently from Web content. We're just on the threshold of adjusting the detection." However, he expects some users will pick their version of an article in the course of selecting the subscriber.
Publishers and database aggregators participating in the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions program gain some real advantages, primarily the possibility of access to Yahoo!'s 372,000,000 unique users. Yahoo! claims to be the "most trafficked Internet destination worldwide." Content owners interested in participating can go to the Publisher Interest Form (http://search.yahoo.com/subscription/contact/partners) and enter the publication name, home page, contact name, e-mail, telephone number, and subscriber count. "A partner manager from Yahoo! will contact you," according to the FAQ. Though Yahoo! Search will refer users to publishers or content provider Web sites, it currently does not use its Yahoo! Shopping e-commerce system to handle new subscriptions. Mayer indicated that this may change if the program succeeds. Conversations with vendors indicated that some of the problems may lie in technical difficulties involved in linking Yahoo!'s e-commerce systems with vendors' subscription process systems.
In keeping with the beta test aspect of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, the service solicits suggestions and feedback from users. It also asks users to suggest publications they might want included in the program. One instant suggestion emerged from a very interested user of Yahoo! and several of its suppliers—all right, me. The suggestion is that all of the suppliers should offer some pay-per-view route as well as subscription options. Of course, it is the vendors more than Yahoo! that make this decision. However, Mayer did say that "anyone can opt in to a subscription service. Even if they have no subscription, they can still access results. We spider and drill equally. But when users click to get content on a service for which they have no subscription, it would be like searching Dialog without the Print command." (That analogy reveals to any long-time searcher how many years Mayer has been working in the online field.) He also added that Yahoo! Search may decide to identify pay-per-view options in the information it provides to searchers. "As we move forward, we will learn more about if people want pay-per-view."
Here Come the Vendors
At the launch of the beta, seven sources were available: Consumer Reports, FT.com, Forrester Research, IEEE publications, New England Journal of Medicine, TheStreet.com, and the Wall Street Journal. Content from Factiva, LexisNexis' AlaCarte service, Thomson Gale, and ACM was scheduled to go online in the next few weeks. In the case of the data aggregators, severe limits were set on content available through Yahoo! Search.
(For details on vendor participation in the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions program, see the companion NewsBreak, "Varying Content Commitments from Vendors for Yahoo! Search Subscriptions," [http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16175].)
Meanwhile, Back at the Competition
Yahoo! Search has aimed at deep Web content for some time. The Content Acquisition Program it initiated early in 2004 specifically went after public databases and legacy systems not spidered by other Web search engines. Even before that, it had an arrangement with Northern Light to access fee-based traditional article content (this was discontinued when Northern Light dissolved its Web search service in 2002).
Google's Scholar, Print, and Print Library projects have aimed their service at similar library-style content. In the case of the books digitized in Google Print and Google Print Library, the content is exclusive to Google. However, to date Google has lacked any payment mechanisms to support pay-per-view or subscriptions, beyond the one used by its advertisers (which is also used in a limited basis in its Google Answers ask-an-expert service). However, recent announcements in the press indicate that Google plans to offer an electronic payment service sometime this year. Gurus of the dot-com world interpret this payment initiative as competition for eBay's PayPal service, but it could have more than one application (e.g., content-based revenue). As usual, Google has not revealed many details, but the new payment system would probably work very much like Yahoo! Shopping's credit-card-based service.
At present, Yahoo! has no intention of displaying ads in the Yahoo! Search Subscriptions content, nor is it charging publishers or content providers. "Right now no money is changing hands," said Mayer. "If we can up the search intensity of existing users and acquire new users, then we can make more money. We have no plans for specific monetization of this new content, beyond regular search listings." The success of the program, according to Mayer, will be measured by "the uptake of the service, if people search more. We have seen lots of publishers contacting us just in the few days since the announcement of the service. There is a lot of interest in joining the program from many major publishers, most of those now for specific journals. When it comes to the future, we're looking at what consumers want. We want more publishers and publications and will be proactive as well as reacting to those who have come to us."