Will Tiered Content Strategies Crack the IT Research PayWall?
May 14, 2010 4 Comments
There are two content models in the IT research world: the PayWall and the freely available. In the former model, the business assumption is that the firm’s revenue stream is largely driven by content subscriptions. The latter treats content as the best advertising of the firm’s real value: its people and the advice they can offer. And then there are hybrids: some of the content is out there, but not all.
James Governor of RedMonk, a pioneer of the freely available, recently wrote a piece about how Gartner is participating (or not) in the social sphere and noted:
Blogs may not have put paid to the industry analysts must not collaborate idea, but twitter has punched a big hole in the porous membrane. If analysts have to ping outside the firewall and back to collaborate with their own colleagues then so be it. And this is happening in public.”
I agree with James, of course – in fact he points to me as a fast follower of his innovative approach, which I briefly describe as “put the content out there as advertising and sell access.”
The explosive growth of social media has turbocharged this model. Any PayWall firm salesperson will tell you (even without a few beers) that access is what they sell to vendors (hoping for mentions and referrals), and to users (who need guidance.) The Inquiry model pioneered by Gartner and later Giga Information Group made access a part of the “seat” price and represented an acknowledgment of the fact that publications alone were not going to be enough forever. But the business models of the PayWall firms have not followed the trend to its logical conclusion; the devaluation of the publication piece is not acknowledged in the pricing and practices they follow. At least, that is, until recent partial cracks starting with the success of the freely available firms, and James points to the growth of “outside the PayWall” communications in social media as evidence of the change. I believe it’s happening more slowly, and I’ve said so in numerous posts like this one.
In the past year, the wide-open trickle of twitter conversation at their industry events has turned into a flood, and vendors are monitoring the tweetstream before and during events, even responding to it during the event itself. And now non-planned events are catalysts for such exchanges as well. During the recent flurry of discussion about SAP acquiring Sybase, the collaborative dialogue has been extraordinary, and many independent analysts interacted publicly in posts, tweets and commentary on one another’s published pieces. It’s a wonderful trend, and it enriched the view of anyone who followed it.
The dialogue around SAP-Sybase also included an example of the emerging hybrid between the PayWall and the freely available. (Call it the “a taste is free, kid” model.) Matt Aslett of the 451 Group published an excerpt of what appears to be an excellent piece. I say “appears” because only part of it is outside the PayWall. That’s unfortunate, but it may be the best way for firms who hope to continue to drive a substantial piece of their revenue model from publication fees to participate partially. The contrast, though, with a fully developed piece fully published, like James Kobielus’ in his Forrester blog, doesn’t flatter. Personally, I hope we see more of the latter, and less of the former. I want Matt’s stuff out where I can read it – selfish of me, of course. I’m a big fan of his work. And I’d like to see him continue to engage the other analysts out here (as he does.) I hope his firm’s model doesn’t constrain that. (And I don’t mean to pick on 451 or Matt – this is just the most recent example.)
What do you think? If you can read research by analysts without charge, are you less likely to pay their firm? If more content is freely available, will you be less likely to go to the paid stuff? Do you find that the quality of freely available stuff (other than large scale primary research with extensive models, etc. a la IDC or Dataquest reports) is adequate for your needs? Love to have your comments here.