I opened up two recently purchased music CD's yesterday and found they both contained postcards I could fill out to get on the mailing list for the music labels producing the CD's. I have seen this in scattered instances before, and what's particularly interesting to me is that only the small labels ever seem to bother, even though the cost to insert a postcard into a jewel case is virtually zero, and the information gained can be priceless. Yet for whole segments of the publishing industry, the customer continues to be an intermediary, not a true end-user.

I've never been particularly excited about any form of publishing where there isn't some direct connection with the end-user. I say this even for advertising-based publications. Many print publishers to this day continue to rent lists and ship out their ad-based publications to strangers, hoping that the large quantity they are sending out will compensate for their lack of knowledge about who they are sending to. This happens with many ad-based Web sites as well, with publishers evaluating their success based on level of site traffic -- eyeballs -- with no real knowledge of the users behind that traffic

Subscription-based publishers usually have better information on the end-user, but not always. Many data publishers sell a significant percentage of their subscriptions to libraries. Even when the customer appears to be an individual in a company, the subscription ends up in an internal information center, and the individual subscriber of record may not use the information at all.

Of course, many data products are sold through distributors and aggregators, another type of intermediary sale where the ultimate user is unknown. Distributors have traditionally been loathe to release any end-user usage information. I can remember sitting in meetings when Dialog ruled the roost, begging and pleading for the tiniest shred of information on who might be using our content. Ironically, with aggregators and distributors increasingly feeding corporate intranets, even they don't truly know the ultimate user anymore

Interestingly, a lot of publishers are wringing their hands and worrying about maintaining their brands in an environment where information distribution is increasingly anonymous and diffuse. The focus on branding content is in one sense an admission of defeat: publishers are effectively saying, "I probably will never know who you are, so I want you to at least know who I am." Presumably these end-users will then seek out the publisher directly for additional content. At least, that's the hope But this is not the time for passivity when it comes to knowing your customers. It's not just a sales issue. It means understanding how and why your content is being used, and intermediaries will never be able to truly answer that question for you. Because if you don't know exactly who is using your data, as well as how and why it is being used, you won't be able to apply the high-value infocommerce characteristics that are critical to continued success and growth.


Tim DeMello, Chairman and CEO of Ziggs, has been confirmed as a speaker.

InfoCommerce 2005 November 6-8 | Philadelphia

The Working Conference for the Thinking Publisher.