A recent post in the TechCrunch blog described a decision by Technorati, a search engine for blogs, to drop content over six months old. What, may I gently inquire, are these folks thinking?
We'll leave aside the point that the cost of online storage is incredibly low and going lower. But even if disk space was expensive, for a search engine to voluntarily discard content that it has already invested in to collect and index is insanity. Like or it not, the business of search is becoming an all-or-nothing game. You either have all the content in your area of coverage or don't play.
This does put a spotlight on the issue of archive content, however. You may remember back a number of years ago when the newspaper industry decided its future was to give away current news for free, and charge for its archives. This model failed miserably, and the accepted wisdom since then has been "you can't sell your archives." This belief has been reinforced by the experiences of some magazine publishers as well.
But is it true that all this content that we build so expensively and guard so jealously has a "sell by" date? My belief is that archive content can be enormously valuable. The failed experiences to date generally reflect a combination of bad timing and bad merchandising.
What has held back the sale of archive content is: 1) a belief (real or imagined) that the same content can be obtained elsewhere online for free; 2) uncertainty about the value of what one is being asked to purchase; 3) price points that make a purchase decision difficult; 4) marketing efforts that range from subtle to passive; 5) the cumbersome mechanics of making a small a la carte purchase.
As it becomes increasingly evident that lots of information on the web doesn't stay readily and freely available forever, value perceptions of online content are increasing. Too, while a la carte access to archive content hasn't taken off, there are a growing number of publishers successfully making their archives available for unlimited access for an annual subscription price, often a hefty one. Combine this trend with this selling model and all the issues I cited above suddenly go away.
Archive content is growing in value every day, particularly if you organize it well and/or associate it with structured data content. Successful monetization seems largely a function of the right revenue model. The time is now to start tapping into an opportunity that is only going to grow. Gone, I hope, are the days when (true story) a publisher I know used to erase its archives in order to reclaim those oh-so-valuable ... floppy disks.