This article first appeared in the July 9, 2003 INSIDER PASS Eletter which is a publication from AdWeek's Technology Marketing Magazine. Our thanks to Managing Editor Scott Van Camp who gave us permission to post the article here for you to see it. All copyright remains with AdWeek.
By Sam Whitmore
About 15 years ago IBM seethed. Dozens of competitors, collectively, were reaping billions leveraging the intellectual property IBM created when it designed and built the original IBM PC. Suddenly IBM's lawyers swung into action. Compatibles makers had to license all patents related to the design of the IBM PC, the company announced. Larger companies with patents to cross-license could do so. Cloners with nothing to trade could expect to pay between a 1 percent and 5 percent royalty on their annual sales.
IDG CEO Patrick Kenealy seems to know his history. In today's Web publishing world, no company employs more editors, pays more benefits and, overall, invests more in tech editorial than IDG. Kenealy wants what's his. He has joined a growing number of scholars, attorneys and other experts studying the concept of "deep linking," the practice of a Web site linking to another Web site deeper than its homepage. Deep links have brought to the Web platform what compatibles and clones brought to IBM's platform.
And, just as IBM once declared war on cloners, Kenealy today is preparing for war against illicit deep linking. He says he's tired of competitors profiting from linking to IDG content without IDG getting some of the dough. That's why IDG recently blocked TechTarget from linking to IDG Web sites. Visit any TechTarget site and click on a link to an IDG article. You'll get a screen that, in so many words, says TechTarget is a parasite and that you really should be a good egg and go to the original IDG site.
TechTarget responded to all this with a prepared statement: "IDG's move to block TechTarget visitors from IDG content has little effect on TechTarget. Less than one percent of our content consisted of links to IDG."
I thought that statement missed the point. Philosophically speaking, how does TechTarget feel about the concept of deep linking? TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch refused to discuss philosophy. "This ain't a big deal for us," he barked. "It's a totally trivial issue."
No it isn't, Greg. Yes, over the years you have hired many dozens of your own reporters and editors. So have CMP and Ziff Davis, but both of those companies launched IT web portals this year whose business models are modeled after yours, and assume the ability to deep-link.
IDG is currently auditing all the different ways in which competitors link to its sites. When its research concludes this fall, Kenealy says he will address each relationship case by case.
Don't be surprised if IDG starts charging license fees to access its content, or demands a commission on every sales lead generated by a click on an IDG link. At least some of that cost is bound to blow back on advertisers. If on the other hand publishers link only to their own content, readers must do more work, and the Web itself will suffer as a tech publishing medium.
Specifically, here's what Kenealy says he objects to:
* Not sharing registration data. Many Web sites, TechTarget among them, require users to register before being able to read content. If a Web site that requires registration wishes to link to IDG content, that site must be willing to share its registration data with IDG. This is especially important to Kenealy if the Web site linking to IDG content allows Web visitors to bypass the IDG site's own registration page. "It's basic fairness," he said.
* Developing sales leads using IDG content. This point is closely related. Web sites that require registration monitor the content that visitors click on, and study the patterns that develop. When it can be determined that a given user shows an interest in a particular product, technology or vendor, a sales lead is generated and passed on to a Web site's advertiser, usually at an additional charge.
Kenealy figures that it's unfair of a competitor to generate sales leads for itself when Web visitors read IDG content. It might be fairer if that Web site gave IDG a piece of the action, be it a percentage of the fee for the sales lead, or perhaps a blanket cross-licensing agreement of some sort.
* Subscription fees. Web sites should not charge subscribers to read content that is available for free (or with registration) on IDG sites. Web sites and e-mail newsletters specializing in aggregation are the culprits here, Kenealy said.
Kenealy's years at IDG Ventures will serve him well as he pursues his linker competitors. Until he has reason otherwise, Kenealy will treat them all like potential customers. But his patience won't be limitless, because IDG chairman Pat McGovern is watching, and he's as moral as he is profit-minded.
"We've determined that we've been subject to a little bit of abuse," Kenealy says.
Like IBM, he surely will do something about it.
Sam Whitmore is editor of "Sam Whitmore's Media Survey," a web-based editorial analysis service. Reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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