Friday, February 13, 2009

Internet Sales Tax On The Horizon?

Government Technology ran a news item today about legislation introduced in the Florida legislature to begin taxing internet sales made in the state. With state and local jurisdictions facing tough budget times expect this issue to soon appear in other state capitals. This may lead to a situation in which online companies like Amazon face a range of differing tax requirements from state and local governments around the US.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BtoB Media and the Hypercommoditization of Information

This is a reprint of an article I wrote in March of 2008 for BtoB Media Business. While the focus of the piece is largely on the work we do at e.Republic, the challenge of the hypercommoditization of information confronts the entire media industry these days. I was reminded of this while reading Michael Kinsley's spot-on essay this am in the NYT: "You Can't Sell News by the Slice". More to say on this topic down the road.

Business Information and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Like many b-to-b media firms, e.Republic spent a fair amount of time over the last few years working to understand and exploit the disruptive dynamics unleashed on our industry by the webification of just about everything.

And while we aggressively move ahead in areas like Web 2.0 and broadband video, our most rewarding work to date has been in the development of business information or market intelligence offerings. It is here that we have been able to launch our most successful new ventures and, more important, build higher-value relationships with new and existing clients.

What precisely is business information? You can get as many definitions as there are publishers discussing the topic. American Business Media defines business information as “public and proprietary information gathered and linked in order to create valuable business intelligence which can be sold to customers for analytical, business development and operational purposes.”

It's an area that holds untapped potential for many media firms but is exploited by only a few.

Our foray into business information began several years back, when the Web's hypercommoditization of information was tearing up industries from travel to finance to daily newspapers. We were concerned that this trend posed a serious challenge to our firm as a traditional b-to-b “infomediary.” However, as we looked more closely at the characteristics of our market, what we originally saw as a threat was, in fact, a larger opportunity.

It was our view that the same technologies that were supercommoditizing data also made it possible to make information hyperrelevant in ways that were physically or financially impractical just a few years earlier. After taking a deeper look at the information ecosystem that existed between the buyers and sellers in our market, it was clear to us that the Web could be used to cost-effectively deliver sophisticated, high-value information to our customers—for which they would pay a premium.

E.Republic primarily serves the public-sector market. Our sellers are largely targeting buyers who work for government or educational institutions. This makes the sellers' marketing/sales lifecycle complex, fragmented and (due to competitive procurement) information-intensive and time-critical.

By aggregating both public information—such as published government bids, jurisdictional budget data and agency procurement procedures—and supplementing this with our own proprietary data harvested from our existing content streams and new research, we were able to create a high-value, premium information product for our commercial customers that we sell on an annual subscription basis.

Launched more than five years ago, the service has been through several iterations as we've learned more about which data sets our clients consider most useful. Additionally, developments in Web technology have enhanced our means of delivery, and we have been able to develop a set of solid add-on offerings, such as custom research for clients who require a more detailed look at a particular market area.

But aside from the services themselves, what is surprising about our journey into business information is how it is driving the evolution of relationships between us and our clients. We are finding that, as we understand more about the business information needs of our commercial customers, we develop better insights into the strategic and tactical challenges they face in how they market and sell to the buyers in our marketplace.

Call it the law of unintended consequences, but our move into business information is shifting our role with clients beyond a relationship weighted toward traditional branding and lead-generation services (advertising and events) to that of a high-value partner more closely attuned to a customer's entire marketing/sales lifecycle. Our role as a market intelligence partner is making us a more integral element in a client's “go-to-market” work flow, specifically helping them to more efficiently target and complete sales transactions and build deeper relationships with their customers. The essence of this role was echoed by Mike Reilly, CEO of Randall-Reilly Publishing, which runs its own $13 million premium information business. He wrote in a recent article: “We think that our business is to help our clients find and keep customers.”

From our vantage point, incorporating business information into our product platform demonstrates a subtle but powerful shift in the role a media firm can play in today's b-to-b market. It is a shift that provides the perfect counterpoint to hypercommoditization: hyperrelevancy.