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May 10, 2001
Case Study

Legal Content Distributor Mondaq Changes Its Business Model and Blows Away Revenue Expectations

SUMMARY: Bored of hearing about subscription Web sites?  In our continued quest to bring you details of profitable, online content business models, we contacted the folks at Mondaq. You could call them an electronic vanity press for lawyers. Learn how they successfully changed their business model this January (results = ka-ching!).
CHALLENGE

Mondaq, a content distribution company headquartered in London, has been selling lawyers in the US and around the world on the idea of having their articles distributed as a promotional tool since 1994. (In fact Mondaq also works with other types of professionals but we're gonna focus on the lawyers for this Study.)

The theory is that a lawyer will write a substantive article that's so wonderful that potential clients will read it and want to hire him or her.

Mondaq's biz model was to be the conduit between these lawyers and their intended audience. A hybrid of a vanity press and a marketing tool. As Executive Director Megan Hill told us, "Traditionally a law firm would pay us not insignificant amounts of money and then we would distribute their articles to all the major proprietary databases -- Lexis/Nexis, Dow Jones Interactive, Dialog, Bloomberg, Westlaw, etc."

By 2000 the Company had more than 500 paying legal clients. But Mondaq felt the Internet held the promise of much larger revenues. So they decided to turn their whole pay-to-publish business model on its head.

CAMPAIGN

First Mondaq expanded its distribution channels by offering free content feeds to related Web sites and high profile sites corporate executives might surf such as sites owned by The Economist. So far more than 50 sites have agreed to take Mondaq's feed and they're shooting for 200 by the end of the year. (The deal they're proudest of is one with legal directory publisher Martindale Hubble.)

Next Mondaq set up two sets of internal systems -- a measurement system to create reports for lawyers on how their articles are being viewed, plus a "tidy little CRM system" to deal with the projected volume of new customers.

Then they carefully broke the news to their current clients first -- as of January first 2001 lawyers could publish and distribute through the Mondaq system for free. The only charges they would incur would be if they wanted to add their email address to the article, or a hotlink to their Web site, or a personal photograph, or a link to their bio, or receive handy measurement reports to learn how many potential clients viewed the article, etc. Each feature was offered on an a la carte basis.

After January first, Mondaq's marketing team began reaching out to new clients by sending useful comments to email discussion groups that legal marketers participate in; exhibiting at related trade shows; and through sales reps (aka Account Managers.)



RESULTS

Hill says, "Market reaction has been overwhelmingly positive with the only real problem having been that many people assume that there must be a catch to our free to contribute offer as it seems too good to be true."

Mondaq's Co-Founder and Managing Director Andrew Partridge backed this up by emailing us the following figures:

- 100% of Mondaq's previous clients converted to the new system

- After 12 weeks of marketing, Mondaq has 2,900 additional new clients. The budgeted figure for the entire year was 3,300 which means they'll pretty much blow it out of the water.

- Mondaq projected that 10% of free article contributors would convert to paying for additional items (such as a hotlink to their Web site), so far only 6% of them have done so. But....

- The average paying author is spending $750 to buy enhancements -- versus the $450 Mondaq's budget had projected. (This is where the ka-ching comes in.)

In fact Partridge told us that it looks like budgeted goals may be "exceeded three-fold."

Wow.
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