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Mar 22, 2001
How To

Syndication and Licensing Expert Elizabeth Karolczak on Pricing and Selling Content

SUMMARY: Elizabeth Karolczak has been helping publishers find new markets for their content since 1992. Her clients have included CMP International, Hoovers, IOMA, Knight Ridder, National Geographic, and Zachs Investment Research. We contacted her to answer some of the basic questions publishers frequently ask about making more money through content syndication and licensing.
"UniversityWire aggregates news from 500 colleges around the country. They have exclusives with 99% of the papers. They are the only game in town if you want to get that news. So they've been able to successfully syndicate and they've never gone to the traffic-back-to-our-site scenario. Instead they have a very nice business getting licensing fees from 20-30 places."

Here's a fact that may unhappily surprise some publishers -- if you have a competitor of lower quality who is giving away their content for free or at a very low cost, you probably will not be able to sell your content for more. Your content can't just be better; it's got to be substantially and obviously unique to be more valuable. Otherwise buyers will almost always choose the lower priced alternative despite its lower quality.

Also, when pricing take into consideration how hard it would be for anyone else to duplicate your content. Many buyers are willing to pay for extensive databases of information that would be a pain for them to collect all by themselves. Other pricing considerations are the number of eyeballs which will see the content; and, if the buyer intends to resell to additional eyeballs. The strength of your brand name, depth of archives required, frequency, and niche focus will all affect price as well.

How do you find out how much your competitors are charging? Do the research. Have someone call them to ask. Plus, it pays to hang out on librarian email discussion groups. Librarians are usually the point-people for content sales into the corporate and university environment. And they often complain to each other about prices in these groups while naming names and numbers!

There is no one single place where you can sign up to sell all your content to all the buyers out there. To generate real revenues you must do a plethora of deals. Publishers who view outlets such as ScreamingMedia as a one-stop band-aid for all syndication sales are bound to be disappointed.

Karolczak's list of potential content sales outlets includes COMTEX, CompuServe, Factiva, DIALOG, Gale Research, Infonautics, Lexis/Nexis, Powerize and dozens more. To see the complete list of folks she's negotiated with so far go to:

These days the hot content markets are the wireless sector (which still has some VC backing) and corporate intranets. Market research reports usually get a lot of interest from corporate markets.

Brace yourself. Unless you have really compelling content that fills a current need, deals can take forever.

If you're a small publisher with limited frequency they may never happen at all. That's because it takes just as long for an aggregator to do a deal and write a loader for someone with five stories a day as it does for someone with 5,000 stories a day. Guess who's going to get precedence?

Internet-based companies such as ScreamingMedia and iSyndicate can get you up and running in a matter of weeks, and you'll see you first check 3-6 months later. Traditional content distributors such as Factiva may take up to double that time frame.

Inconsistently produced data is the number one thing that breaks down most negotiations. Buyers expect to see consistent fields in all of your articles or items (such as headline, date and meta tagging) and if fields are not consistent -- or not consistently filled in -- this becomes a major problem. Directories in particular should have the same fields completed for every entry.

Even if a buyer loves your content, they are looking for ease of translation into their format. Inconsistent or missing fields make their jobs harder.

Also, Karolczak warns publishers not to even bother trying to syndicate content in PDF format. Buyers dislike PDF because every file can't search it.

Small-mid sized publishers should consider hiring a consultant to handle syndication and licensing sales because it's not economically feasible for them to hire someone full-time in-house to do it. Also, consultants bring personal history and ongoing relationships with all the major content outlets to the table -- which is something many in-house business development people can't match.

No, ScreamingMedia and iSyndicate are not consultants. They are sales outlets. A consultant can help you make deals with them (or you easily can do it on your own), plus a consultant should be able to help you make deals with a wide variety of other resellers, distributors, aggregators as well as one-to-one deals with direct clients.

Consultants' costs vary. Most require some type of low-level monthly retainer, plus a back-end commission based on revenues.

A good consultant is picky about who they work with. Not every publisher's content is right for substantial syndication revenues, so beware of anyone who agrees to take you on without asking searching questions about your product, technical format and frequency. Be sure to ask potential consultants how much money they think they can really make for you, and how long it will take. If they can't answer those questions clearly, then don't hire them.
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