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Dec 06, 2000

Content Syndication Expert Valerie Voci of on Pricing and Tactics

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Valerie Voci is one of those enormously knowledgeable people who can answer thorny content syndication and licensing questions with easy, matter-of-fact authority. She's also incredibly busy, with her new job as PostNewsweek's Publisher and two daughters at home. So busy in fact, that it took us more than four months to coordinate schedules to get this exclusive interview for you. Enjoy!

Q: How did you get started in the content licensing and syndication field? And, what major trends have you noticed already?

Voci: I started out in the newsletter business with Telecom Reports. We had well-known, expensive niche products and started distributing them through enterprise-wide site license agreements in late '94-95. Content was king then! You could really charge a premium for specialized content. People were really beginning to spend money on good content.

I joined Newsbytes, which was founded in 1983, in January 1998 when the Washington Post approached me to help them restructure how they licensed content. We had a publishing system to allow us to slice and dice content, allow customers to choose the amount they wanted. We were also allowed to put content onto Web sites instead of just site licenses.

The price of content plummeted, especially for tech news.

What I've seen this year is that good content is valued again. We've got a lot of people coming back to me who said, "I won't pay for it." Now they come back and say, "You have good reporters, you report on news that others don't." So I'm seeing a swing back to the content is valuable days. It's hip again! It's good news.

The models are changing though. The days of a librarian sitting behind a proprietary file are long gone. The knowledge management worker has to be very savvy. There's been a lot of education on the buying side.

Q: The most frequent question we hear from publishers is "How much should I charge for my content?" Got any answers?

Voci: I get that question a lot too. We have some history -- we have raised our prices.

When I mingle with other publishers, what I tell them is you really have to look at what's out there, who your niche is. For a more targeted audience it can be more expensive. You need to see what's out there in that space, and then look at how they want to use your content.

We all know how expensive it is to run a Web site -- it's easy entry but maintenance is high and editorial is expensive. Sites need content on a daily basis to keep sticky, and it's usually less expensive to license that out than to hire editors. There's a pain threshold for pricing. We ask sites how much do you have to spend and what are you looking for? We'll find them a solution even if it's only two stories a day. That's great, we'll allow you to choose which two you want! Sometimes companies grow with us as their Web site grows.

Q: How do you find buyers for your content?

Voci: Our largest self-syndicators tend to be editors of Web sites who know what they're looking for. We have forms right on our site they can get into and get an auto email back.

Some magazines license for their print edition and also put us on their Web sites.

Each revenue model is different. I review each one and talk to each webmaster or editor to find out if this is what they want and how they want it. Nobody wants to sign a contract and have it cancelled!

Q: What's your experience with licensing content to third party syndicators?

Voci: I'm usually pretty tough. I have some good content! You can't always price for that. But I will tell the vendor what I expect to receive net, net. I put limitations on the stories per day someone can republish, and the number of categories that can be syndicated. With most of our third party agreements, they will send us information for approval before we give the green light so I can get an idea of the kind of clients who come to them.

I always know where my content is! Players come and go, Web sites stop, magazines merge. I always know.

Q: Are you worried about market saturation?

Voci: NewsBytes publishes 60 stories per day. We're very careful to limit the number of Web sites. That's a big question in this business -- when are you overexposed? When do you stop?

Q: What basis do you use for syndication revenue models?

Voci: We'll do a flat fee based on the number of stories per day and circulation or page views. I'm not a fan of advertising deals -- it's so net of net of net. I prefer to split advertising delivery if we're on the same platform. We're on Doubleclick so I'll take 60% of the delivered views where the content fits based on looking at your available inventory.

Q: What if you're a publisher who has no idea what his or her content is worth. How would you suggest he or she set a price?

Voci: There's historical information. Very often a buyer will tell you that you are smoking something because "I would never pay that." Or they'll tell you they have X number of dollars. At the end of the day it has to have value - so you can't undersell yourself. The deal has to be important enough to sell your content. With NewsBytes I have 13 reporters and editors so there's a real cost.

Q: What's the business model for

Voci: We're an advertising supported site that's part of the Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Group. We sellbanners, sponsorships, interesting contextual commerce and microsites that are a blend of ads and content.

We're being aggressive because we think this is the hottest market around. We have more tech companies and tech employees here than in Silicon Valley. It's the MCIs, the AOLs as well as start-ups. National advertisers are interested in them!

We really want Washtech to be the portal of this region. We have 35 reporters and editors -- that's a lot of editorial focused on technology. I don't think a lot of other media companies can say "We can cover this like no other media group."

We want to reach readers wherever they are -- live audio feeds, wireless to their PDA device, anything.

We'll also continue to syndicate content through NewBytes because it's set up that way. We'll bring Washington to the world.
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