We coined the term "infocommerce" six years ago to convey a fundamental transition that was occurring within the publishing industry. Today, publishers are applying infocommerce in many ways, and it has become the essential key to redefining their roles and value propositions. As a result, the lines between information and commerce are becoming more and more blurry.
What's the difference between a database product and a catalog? At one level, the simple distinction is one takes orders for the listed merchandise and one doesn't. But in terms of the underlying content, distinctions blur quickly. One of the finest examples of this is Amazon.com's brilliant evolution of its Internet Movie Database subsidiary, which is successfully defying conventional wisdom with an explicit strategy to be all things to all people.
What's the difference between a list compiler and a database publisher? Here, the distinction is even murkier, though both types of businesses live in their own worlds and consider themselves vastly different from the other. The fact that compilers, just like data publishers, are being forced to gather deeper and more valuable data is a guarantee their paths will cross if not collide in the near future. D&B offers proof of this as it creates new products to capture more of the small business market. InfoUSA offers another great example as it moves to expand its presence with the big business segment of the market.
We are even seeing a blurring of traditional roles among B2B magazine publishers. Once content to passively introduce buyer and seller through advertising in their printed pages, many of them are now moving to more actively exploit their central market position, and are operating call centers to develop sales leads, conducting market research, creating vertical search portals, offering print and online custom publishing capabilities, and much more. It's going to be hard to recognize much less categorize these publishers in a few years.
So while this re-definition heralds an evolution of the industry, it's also confusing and destabilizing because the frames of reference we once depended on to understand how things work are all in flux. The good news is that those who are creatively embracing change are uniformly re-shaping themselves into better, diversified and stronger companies, with much more exciting growth and profit opportunities that will usher in the dawn of a new golden age of publishing. But at the moment, it's still a bit blurry.