A License to Sell
In an era of integrated publishing and vertical marketing, notions of content and brand have become more fluid, able to morph into new forms that reflect the ways consumers now access and think about information. This trend is even apparent in the world of reprints and content licensing, where traditional concerns about rights and brand integrity run up against new opportunities for revenue generation.
In a Web-enabled world, publishers must be open to the reality of widespread content distribution and willing, in some cases, to loosen their grip on material in exchange for the revenue potential made possible by a global demand for good content.
“If content is behind a paid wall, it is not getting indexed by Google. So if you want customers to find your content through a search engine, which is the dominant paradigm right now, you need to free it up,” says Rich Pearson, vice president of marketing at Attributor, a company that tracks the unauthorized use of content online and provides a way for publishers to sell licenses for legal use of that material. “It’s getting out there anyway … . On average, what we’re finding is 20 copies [being reprinted elsewhere] for every article that our customers are publishing.”
It Pays to Be Proactive
Using Attributor, publishers can turn discovery of unauthorized use of content into a sales call. Content users who refuse to go legit may face legal proceedings; either way, the tracking service provides insight into how other parties are using content, allowing publishers to formulate a licensing strategy around niches proven to be in demand for reuse.
Being proactive in the repurposing game requires taking steps to make content reuse and licensing as easy as possible, both internally and for interested second parties.
Few, if any, companies have done more on this score than Meredith Corp., publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, Parenting, Family Circle and other well-known magazines. Meredith leverages its brand value to market content options customized to the needs of other publishers around the world.
The company’s aggressive content licensing program grew out of an internal program that allowed the company’s 26 subscription magazines and 200 special-interest publications to make use of content that previously appeared in sister publications, after an appropriate embargo period.
Meredith’s Creative Library, begun in 2003, maintains more than 2.5 million digital images and articles, managed through a system that tracks usage and the rights attached to that usage. About 200,000 new assets are added to the library each year.
While making it easy to call up articles and check their status (materials are stored in Quark and InDesign and include an embedded graphic link to information on usability), the system is designed to prevent unauthorized use.
“If the contract with a photographer includes the right to use [an image] with other publications, then we can share. If it is limited to [Better Homes and Gardens, for example], then the library’s security mechanism does not allow us to use it,” says Creative Library Manager Patty Bellus.
Outside partners can view and download articles and photos through an international licensing program begun three years ago. Meredith currently maintains 20 relationships in 10 countries, and is adding six to nine new partners a year, according to Mike Lovell, director of Meredith International.
These outside partners include MSN.com and Yahoo.com, as well as several international editions of Meredith publications, including Better Homes and Gardens in China, India and Australia, Parents and Fitness in Indonesia, and Child in India, none of which are published directly by Meredith Corp.
“[These international editions] are localizing the content in a way that makes the end product true to what the brand is, but also relevant to the local audience,” Lovell says. For example, Better Homes and Gardens editors in China might supplement a licensed article about decorating a room with information about local furniture stores or a photo of a Chinese family. Or, a cooking section using previously published Better Homes and Gardens content might benefit from the inclusion of local recipes or information about regional ingredients.
To enforce brand integrity, Meredith does sales and editorial training with new publishing partners, maintains regular contact with editors, sees advance copies of the first few issues, and has access to forthcoming covers and tables of contents after that. The company reserves the right to cancel any agreement if a publication proves to be inconsistent with the brand.
“There is frankly nothing we care more about than the integrity of the brand,” Lovell says. “We want to make sure that whatever publisher we are partnering with has a very strong passion for the brand. They need to believe it works for their market.”
Closer to home, Meredith makes extensive use of its content library for its special-interest magazines. Magazines such as Window and Wall Ideas and Paint Décor use content from bigger subscription magazines such as Family Circle, Renovation Style and Midwest Living.
Internal use of content is facilitated by a comprehensive digital asset management system, provided by Artesia, designed to identify revenue streams and streamline content repurposing. The company has benefited from training managers in departments outside of the digital library to use the system, according to Bellus.
“That’s kind of the mind-set the company has—[to] pay for the content once and find lots of additional ways to make revenue off [of] it,” Lovell notes. “Content licensing is just taking that idea one step further. The platform does not matter.”
Take Control of Your Content
However content is used, Lovell advises that tracking usage rights is central to an effective strategy.
“The most important thing about the content business is understanding what your rights situation is around the content,” he says. “Depending on who the creator is, that company may or may not have the right to use it in another way.”
Bellus says she checks frequently with the legal department to ensure appropriate use of articles and photos.
When rights for outside use are secured, publishers should think about how they want to market themselves through such materials, Pearson advises. He says publishers are wise to include elements that drive users back to their own Web site.
“Because we live in a Google economy, ensuring that all reuses include a link back [to your Web site] is absolutely critical to improving your traffic,” he says. “From a branding perspective … logo placement is also very important.”
Also making good use of a comprehensive database is Frommer’s, the travel guide division of John Wiley & Sons Inc. Frommer’s maintains a “destination database” with information on more than 3,700 locations worldwide. Content in the database originates with the “Frommer’s Complete Guide,” the company’s flagship travel series, according to Craig Schickler, director of e-business development at Wiley.
“The database is flexible, and the precise [content] categories … can be customized to meet … clients’ needs,” he says, citing Frommer’s trip planning, hotels, attractions, restaurants, price range, cuisine and Frommer’s star ratings as potential categories. “Frommer’s also … offers … technical services including creating, designing, building, operating and maintaining Web sites for some of the world’s top travel brands.”
All content in the database is available to partners, and Frommer’s can supplement this licensed content with original content tailored to clients’ needs, Schickler says. Clients can choose content delivery options ranging from RSS feeds to fully hosted private-label Web sites mimicking the look and feel of an existing Web site.
“While the licensed content is integrated directly into a client’s site, the Frommer’s logo and Wiley copyright is also prominently displayed as the source of the content,” Schickler says. “Not only does this offer protection from copyright infringement, but it also provides our clients’ users with the assurance that the information they’re reading is of the highest quality and can be trusted.”
Pearson points out that publishers can negotiate for ads to run with licensed content, creating new selling and sponsorship opportunities, or for the inclusion of widgets that invite readers to subscribe to the publication of origin.
“[Something] to keep in mind as we build these businesses out is that you need to think clearly about your pricing strategy, because things online can be worldwide, and you need to be careful about use of content and exclusivity arrangements you may or may not provide,” Lovell advises. “For example, if we were to license [a photo] to MSN or Yahoo, and give them exclusivity to that photo online, that [would conflict with] the online operations of [Better Homes and Gardens] in China, if they wanted to use that same picture online.”
However it’s done, revenue opportunities from content licensing are potentially huge. Publishers need to be aggressive in grabbing this online market, Pearson says, or expect to be hit with some sobering numbers—such as that 57 percent of the unauthorized content found by Attributor has advertising associated with it, or that 64 percent does not have links back to the original Web site. (Some of this reprinted content even ends up ranking higher on Google searches than the original, something Pearson says is particularly galling to Attributor’s publisher clients.)
“From a traffic and revenue perspective,” he says, “there is a huge opportunity for any publisher willing to take a set of content, and go far and wide.”