BUSINESS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB:

where "word of keystroke" begins

October 28, 1999 -- Selling content/getting paid for content on the Web


Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, October 28, 1999. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM US Eastern Time (GMT -5) every Thursday.

To connect to the chat room, go to www.samizdat.com/chat-intro.html

Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts in particular URLs as they appear on-line. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).

Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggestions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see.

These sessions are hosted by Richard Seltzer. If you would like to receive email reminders of our chat sessions, simply send a blank email message to businessonthewebchats-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/businessonthewebchats and sign up there.

This is one of the longest-running chat programs on the Web. (Please let us know if you know of ones that are older.) We've been doing this for over three years -- since June 1996.

For transcripts of previous sessions and a list of future topics, www.samizdat.com/chat.html.

For an article on how to make "business chat" work (based on this experience), www.samizdat.com/events.html.

For articles on topics related to this one, check our newsletter, Internet-on-a-Disk www.samizdat.com/ioad.html


Threads (reconstructed after the fact):


Today's participants


Introductions

Richard Seltzer -- We'll be starting in about 45 minutes, at noon US Eastern Daylight Savings Time (GMT -4). Today's topic will be selling content/getting money for content on the Web. We are expecting guests from ExpertCentral.com, Learnlots.com, and iSyndicate.com.

Chris Will -- Hi-this is Chris Will from Learnlots.com.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Hi Chris - I'm browsing your site now. Looks very interesting.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Chris and Bob. Looks like we're off to an early start. Thanks for joining us.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Carolyn from ExpertCentral and Mari. Please introduce youselves and let us know your interests.

Mari Badger -- Hi This is Mari, I have a small creative svs co and am intersted in web-content.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Greg from ExpertCentral, please introduce yourself and dive in. Once again we're talking about selling content/getting paid for content on the Web, and especially exploring some of the new modes of publishing that are just emerging.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: This is Greg Schmergel from ExpertCentral joining in.

Richard Seltzer -- (FYI -- for those so inclined, you can see my smiling face, almost live, at http://www.samizdat.com/cam/livenetcam.html [no longer online], thanks to Anthony Alvarez).

Kaye Vivian -- Greetings all. Kaye Vivian from New York here. Nice to be here again!

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- What are you doing these days? What kind of projects are you working on? Any directly related to buying/selling content online?

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, after more than 5 years as an Internet consultant, I had an offer I couldn't refuse from GE Financial Services. I'm Director of Internet Communications as of last July. :)
Yes, I can really talk about content! :) I'll do it in another send, tho.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome Willie and Karin, please dive in. Introduce yourselves and let us know your interests.

Willie -- Hello, I am a senior software engineer contractor. I am interested in doing more web work, and perhaps making a little coin :) If this is designed around technical types then I am interested in using Zope as a publishing tool.

Richard Seltzer -- Willie -- I'm not familiar with "Zope". What does it do? And is there a WEb site that explains about it?

Kaye Vivian -- Hi Willie, what's Zope? :)

Willie -- Zope is the Z Object Publishing Environment, www.zope.org . It is an open source, object oriented tool which allows a user to design his entire application online. It has an integrated object oriented database, and interfaces to most relational databases. So far I found it to be a great tool. I am just beginning to use it in a "real" application.

Karin Ricketts -- Hello! I am the other Director of Business Development at Learnlots.com...

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Sherril. Please introduce yourself and let us know your interests. Are you mainly interested in selling content? (I see that your user name is "writer").

Sherril -- Hello, sorry I'm late. I'm a guide for About.com, and a freelance writer, I'm trying to find more online writing opportunities. I also work as a web designer full time. 


Learnlots.com

Chris Will -- I'm Director of Business Development for Learnlots.com. We view the Web as a viable medium for the free distribution of "web ready" content "in context" of e-commerce opportunities (product placement.) The e-commerce enables the free distribution, and the content itself is completely formatted to be "web-friendly." In turn, by being "web friendly" we can place products for sale, etc...

Chris Will -- About Learnlots.com:
Mission
To become the premier provider of
"e-commerce-enabling" education.
Objectives
1. To provide quality education.
2. Enhance your users' web experience.
3. Increase on-line sales for our partners.
4. Revolutionize publishing by creating the first publishing model that provides free access to both the author and the end-user.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Chris - can you explain "e-commerce-enabling" education a little more?

Richard Seltzer -- Chris -- One aspect of Learnlots that struck me as unique and valuable is your format. You aren't just "repurposing" old content. You are having people write new content in a new form -- "learnlets" or kind of the Web equivalent of soundbytes. You provide just enough material on the screen for the typical user to absorb in a couple minutes. And the pieces fit together into series and topics. So you can drop in at odd times and in a couple minutes learn another piece of a broad subject. This is writing for the Web, not just dumping written material onto the Web.

Chris Will -- Can I tell you all about WebskinsTM?

Richard Seltzer -- Okay, I take the bait :-) What is WebskinsTM?

Chris Will -We deliver tutorials in a unique method that utilizes a web page template called a Webskin™.
-Webskins deliver our education to our partner's users in a look and feel that is identical to our partner's web site.
-Webskins provide education to our partner's users without forcing our partners to sacrifice brand identity.
-Webskins provide access to thousands of tutorials without the expense and complexity of syndication.
-Webskins enable e-commerce by letting you place products in the context of valuable "sticky" content.

Chris Will -- Here's one of our Webskin partners. See how our tutorials are seamlessly integrated into their site? http://www.firstsource.com/tools/learnlots.asp

Richard Seltzer -- Chris -- Just took at look at FirstSource. So your Webskins seems to use frames in such a way that both you and the partner could glean advertising revenue. That's a good reason for the fixed format and brief text of your learnlets.

Chris Will -- Firstsource happens to have frames...our technology works in the context of however a partner website was developed and designed....

Greg Schmergel -- Chris: What kinds of topics do you cover in these tutorials?

Chris Will -- To Greg's content question: right now we have focused on computer and Internet tutorials. We are also adding tutorials in:

Computers and Technology - 2000 tutorials and counting
Consumer Electronics - Satellite TV, Stereos, GPS, and more
Home Improvement/Gardening
Business - 800 tutorials and counting
Lifestyle/Wellness
Hobbies and Collectibles
Health, Sports, and Fitness

Greg Schmergel -- Chris: That's a lot of tutorials! Have your staff been writing all of them? If not, how do you find the people to write them (tying back to Richard's observation)?

Chris Will -- If you think we have a lot of tutorials now, just wait... Actually, we have been hiring freelancers for the most part. We have also licensed some content from Macmillan Publishing. However, most of the newer things you see are originally sourced. We view ourselves as an "ecommerce enabler" and distributor of content. So we give people free rein to do with the content what they please. In other words, we're far less restrictive with what you can or can't do with your content than a book publisher, let's say. The only thing we ask is that you not take this exact same content to another online syndicator or to somebody who imitates our business model.

Greg Schmergel -- Chris: It certainly sounds interesting and relevant. I will go browse around your Web site after the chat.

Kaye Vivian -- Chris, your license from Macmillan enables you to resell the content as part of a package? What kind of affiliate relationships do you make with corporations, for example?

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Chris - do I understand that a company with certain expertise places a FREE tutorial in Learnlots and in return they are compensated by e-commerce "sales" throughout the tutorial?

Chris Will -- Hi Bob, to your question: if a company wants to place content with us, they get some very powerful things in return. 1. A content creation engine that can then distribute their "branded" content to all of our Webskin partners. 2. The opportunity to make a percentage of all the e-commerce their content generates. (i.e. I provide a tutorial on "How to sew", we sell thimbles through one of our ecommerce partners via placement on one of our Webskin partners....


ExpertCentral.com

Greg Schmergel -- All: As a further introduction, ExpertCentral.com is a Web site that anyone can visit to find experts on virtually any topic and get answers to their specific questions. So the focus is on one-on-one, personalized advice between people with questions and our 5000 experts in 18 categories of knowledge.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- It would seem too that over time there would be opportunities for you to gather and edit answers on similar content to produce some crafted content (first as FAQs and then perhaps in article form) as a supplement to what you do now, and as ways to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Some of our experts are already creating articles, as you can see on our home page. And we do create some content automatically on the site from past answers.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- Excellent (regarding creation of content). That's a natural direction. Then you too might be interested in the iSyndicate model as another way to be seen and to draw traffic to your site.

Chris Will -- Hi Greg-If this content is in tutorial or list form, we could potentially brand it as "Expert Central" content and through our Webskin technology, "distribute" it to our partners, basically providing your content as a branding vehicle for your company. You like?

Greg Schmergel -- Chris: The content is in Q&A form, rather than tutorial form, although many of our experts are well qualified to convert their own Q&A into tutorials. 


Spontaneous content and crafted content -- opportunities for partnering

Richard Seltzer -- Greg and Chris -- I see your models as complementary. You are both providing answers, but Greg is doing it in a spontaneous style (answers to questions as they arise) while Chris is doing it in a crafted style (pre-packaged, easy to read and understand answers to common questions). Actually, ExpertCentral could serve as market research for Learnlots -- helping determine what kinds of questions people repeatedly ask. It also could serve as a source of recruits for writing for Learnlots.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- I believe that the Internet is changing how we define "content" or at least saleable content. In the past, only crafted content (carefully written and edited) could be bought and sold. Now spontaneous -- impromptu, extemporaneous -- content is also available and in far greater quantities than the crafted content of the past. It's interesting to see a business model like yours, where people can actually get paid for their spontaneous writings (answers to questions).

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: I agree with you, and in certain situations spontaneous writings can be of tremendous value to the reader, when it is addressed to their specific questions and issues. Crafted content, as you put it, may or may not address a person's real problems. The ideal is to have both easily available.

Mari Badger -- I have noticed that reading styles differ depending on the media. I agree with Richard about the web creating a kind of ³impromptu genre.² One list I belong to, (writers) refused to read poetry on line.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Yes, our model is definitely complementary with anyone providing "crafted", pre-set content. Pre-packaged content covers the frequently asked questions, and we come in for the situations where the question or problem is more complex or more unusual.

Chris Will -- Actually, through a Webskin, we could link to ExpertCentral in the appropriate topic areas, and provide tutorials to compliment Expert Central's dynamic "real time approach." We can also drop in e-commerce opportunities.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg and Chris -- It looks like you guys would make natural partners. Greg's experts are certainly good candidates as writers. And Chris' content would help handle many frequently asked questions.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Learnlots - you speak of partners, does that include independent freelancers and if so what percentage are they of your partners? 


Shopping for financial content

Kaye Vivian -- The main project I'm working on right now is a financial education web site that will launch before the end of the year. We have been acquiring a LOT of content from a lot of published sources. It's been an interesting task.

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- are you only considering print content? or are you also looking at related content that has been published on the Web? You might want to see what iSyndicate has in the category of information you are looking for.

Kaye Vivian -- For the web site we are currently creating, we have made affiliate arrangements with several larger non-profit and for-profit organizations with a lot of financial content. There have been some interesting issues associated with that:

Kaye Vivian -- This is all complicated by the concerns of state regulators in all 50 states. Some states are very strict about allowing certain claims to be made or references to types of financial vehicles or products that are not allowed by their state laws. The Internet really complicates regulatory and compliance matters, even as it makes it easier to make information widely available!

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- That's interesting about state laws and financial information. It's hard to imagine how that could be restricted across the Internet. Don't you just wind up putting lengthy disclaimers into each document about which states the information pertains to?

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, Yes on the disclaimers. But they tend to be site-wide rather than article specific. Actually, we incorporated this site independently, since it does not sell or promote any financial products or services, and it doesn't have the strict compliance issues that product sales sites have (for example, insurance companies or banks). We consider ourselves a publisher and follow that model, which helps. 


iSyndicate

Richard Seltzer -- I just got an email from Jim Toomey at iSyndicate. He has been delayed, but should be joining us in about 10 minutes. His company syndicates content -- distributes it to Web sites that need content (somewhat like newspaper syndication). There might be some what his model might work in harmony with Learnlots.

Greg Schmergel -- Richard and Chris: Are Learnlots and iSyndicate potentially harmonious or competitive? Since Chris mentioned other syndicators as competitive, I am wondering.

Richard Seltzer -- Greg -- iSyndicate does not create any content. They simply redistribute content that has already been published on the Web. They buy no rights and sell no rights. I'm hoping that Jim Toomey can explain better -- it's a unique model, and I do believe there are ways it could work together with Learnlots.

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, I'm familiar with "The Syndicate"....is it the same as iSyndicate? The Syndicate has financial content.

Richard Seltzer -- Vivian -- I believe that "The Syndicate" is different. I've never heard iSyndicate referred to that way. Their site is www.isyndicate.com They also have financial content and lots of other topics as well.

Chris Will -- Are Learnlots and iSyndicate competitive? I think we use different models to achieve similar ends. However, our ability to place ecommerce opportunities for sites that don't have this built in makes us very attractive...also, we don't ask for exclusive rights in any of our contracts. We are really all about ecommerce and distribution.

Richard Seltzer -- It sounds like there are similarities in distribution and intent between Learnlots and iSyndicate, but Learnlots has content written to order in a very distinctive style, intended as tutorial. iSyndicate does not pay to have anything written. They are syndicating articles, magazine etc. -- making what was available at just one site, available at multiple sites. (Chris, I believe you know iSyndicate well. You were the one who first let me know about it.) 


The role of writers and payment for writing

Mari Badger -- I am curious about how Chris and Gregg view the role of writers in their businesses. What kinds of relationships do you form and how do you create loyalty (or is it necessary?)?

Kaye Vivian -- Chris and Greg, I guess I'm still a little puzzled about the writer's roles in this form of content merchandizing. Do you have agreements with them? Do they get referrals as an incentive? What makes writers want to participate?

Greg Schmergel -- Mari: In our business model, writers and other experts get multiple benefits: the ability to charge for their advice when they so choose, exposure for themselves and their work, or just an easy way to interact with and help people.

Chris Will -- To Mari's question regarding the role of writers in our model: I believe we have given writers a viable way to make $ online. By setting up a distribution mechanism that is tied to ecommerce, we are in a position to provide a steady stream of commission income for authors who write in to our system. Unlike iSyndicate which takes content that has already been published however, we are more interested in having people create to our format, for which we will actually compensate up front as well...

Greg Schmergel -- Kaye: We have agreements with writers and other experts, yes, which is easily visible on the site as the part of the registration process. They can get referrals, but more importantly they can actually conduct business on the site and have us handle all the billing and transaction processing. Our transaction fee is 15%, so they keep 85%.

Kaye Vivian -- Greg, thanks. Sounds like a reasonable solution for the many writers who want to be "on the web" but don't want to deal with the technology and personal web site promotion.

Chris Will -- Here's how we are compensating authors: 1. We pay them on a "per tutorial" basis up front. We agree on a topic, an outline, and you do the work. 2. In order to keep the content fresh, we give you full access to your content on our database, and give you the opporunity to continuously update and improve it. For that you receive an ongoing 10% commission on all the ecommerce your content creates. Even better, our database lets you track how well your content is helping to promote ecommerce. It even lets you track where you're losing readers, what tutorials are most popular, etc...

Kaye Vivian -- Chris, that sounds like a novel model. And it provides incentives for writers to maintain and update the information.

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- I have signed up as an expert at ExpertCentral (but need to find the time to get actively involved there.) I have a contract with Learnlots, and am writing tutorials (the first, just finished is on Finding People). For that writing I am paid up front and also will, if this is as successful as we hope, get more money down the road. I also have signed up with iSynicate to provide two weekly columns (Internet trends and a book review) and one monthly (my newsletter Internet-on-a-Disk). Right now those are being distributed for free in a method that drives more traffic to my Web site. Arrangements leading to cash are also possible.

Mari Badger -- Both ExpertCentral and Learnlots sound like interesting models. As a curious writer, I have visited both ExpertCentral and Epinions. (I was turned off by the tone Epinions takes with respect to writers.) Many more literary/serious/full-time writers I know are still uncomfortable with web models of content distribution and prefer magazines or ³magazine² style interfaces. I¹m curious what the obstacles are to finding and engaging good writers are. I personally see this a potential boon to writers, but I know this is not something my writing colleagues agree with me about.

Greg Schmergel -- Mari: What some of the writers on our site have found is that their published work generates significant interest among their readers that goes unfulfilled--imagine reading a book, and wanting to ask the author a question, and now being able to do that. Same thing for any form of writing.....and in some cases those questions are of value to the reader, who is willing to pay the writer for the answer, perhaps even as much as the cost of a hardback book, or more. 


About.com

Richard Seltzer -- Sherril -- Interesting. I have the highest respect for About.com and their people-intensive business model. What is your area of expertise there? Also, are the guides still volunteer (I believe that's how it started), or do you now get some tangible compensation. If you do get paid, that would be yet another way of being paid for content on the Web these days.

Sherril -- Thank you Richard! No, we're no longer volunteers, they pay us a small stipend each month. I do the Reno/Lake Tahoe site. Oops! Sorry about that duplicate, I hit the send button too Soon! Yes, About.com is always looking for new guides, they have a list of available topics under the "Be a Guide" section on the home page. It is not a lot of money, but has been absolutely great experience for writing and maintaining current content.

Chris Will -- Sheril-Would about.com find our Learnlots tutorials useful? Instead of having users jump off your site to view resources here, we could keep them "on" your site with your "look and feel" via a Webskin...of course we would love to have about.com experts writing for us as well...

Kaye Vivian -- Chris, the About.com model does a pretty good job of keeping readers on their site...they are an advertising based model! And they make the guides do a lot of work on creating content. The several guides I know are all very knowledgable in their fields, and any would be good experts for you!

Richard Seltzer -- Sherril -- Reno/Lake Tahoe? Do you live out that way? Or just visit there often?

Sherril-- I live in Reno, it's a requirement of the local guides that they live in the area they cover. Great place to live!

Sherril -- Hello Chris! I'm embarrased to say I haven't been to Learnlots yet. About.com is very interested in partnering, I do know that. I will visit and see!


Purpose of these chat sessions, and business partnerships

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, maybe it's just serendipity, but I haven't been here in a while. Is the purpose of the chats now to network people into business relationships together, or is it still to discuss what's going on and how people are doing new (and old) things related to marketing on the web?

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- We still want to discuss what's going on and what and how people are doing creative things marketing-wise and business-wise on the Web. But partnering and personal networking is a natural part of that, particularly with a topic like this one.

Kaye Vivian -- Sorry if that wasn't clear. :) What I meant was, we have talked a lot about which people and which companies might be a good "partner" with others, and not as much as we used to about "how" things are being done. Does this reflect a change in approach?

Chris Will -- Hi Kaye. I think it's difficult to separate the two sometimes...and I do think it's serendipity...better yet, another great example of "marketing online..." ;-)

Kaye Vivian -- Chris, you're right. ;)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- I don't think it's a change in approach. That's just the direction the discussion went this week. Last week, on the "same" topic we went in a different direction. As you know, this is a rather free-form forum. You can help nudge us in direcitons that would be more useful to you.


How to get advertisers and partners on the Web

Willie -- I am currently working on an online real estate type system. While I am technically adept, I lack "business and marketing" skills. I would be interested in how one goes about getting advertisers and partnerships on the web.

Kaye Vivian -- Willie, that is a BIG question! :) There has been so much written about that. There are a number of e-business publications in print and on the web that feature good start up articles. If you want to send me a note, I'll e-mail you some places to start! I don't have the bookmarks here with me today. (kvivian@cloud9.net)


Wrapup

Richard Seltzer -- All -- Are there other interesting and unique ways of selling/buying content over the Web that your are familiar with? Any people you know of who you would like me to invite for next week?

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, there is a company called ION Systems in Missouri that has an interesting Java-based system for publishing on the Internet. It displays in pages (not scrolling pages), and you can adjust visual variables easily...plus, for writers and content owners, pages cannot be prited from the Internet or saved off to disk. I believe that NetBooks is using their product, but you might want to contact them. Jill Thomas is the president. (www.ionsystems.com)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- ION Systems. Yes. I actually did some consulting for them at an early stage. It would be good to hear how their model is working. (I believe that one of their early customers was www.netbooks.com which sells electronic books online.)

Richard Seltzer -- Unfortunately, it looks like Jim Toomey from iSyndicate won't be able to join us this week. I'll try to get him to confirm (on a stack of Bibles :-) for next week. Greg and Chris, any chance that you two could come back for one last round? I'll also invite ION Systems. It seems that there's a lot of variety in business models for selling content online, which opens interesting partnership possibilities.

Richard Seltzer -- Sherril -- Is there anyone at About.com you know who might like to join us next week? To give us some insight into their overall business model and what kinds of partnerships they might be interested in?

Sherril -- Richard, you'd have to check with their marketing department, but that is a great idea!

Richard Seltzer -- All -- the hour is nearly up. I would like to continue this topic for one more week. Is that the consensus? If so, who can join us next Thursday?

Chris Will -- Hi Richard-not sure if I can do this chat myself next Thursday, but we'll get somebody from Learnlots involved...

Sherril -- I'll be here!

Kaye Vivian -- Thanks, everyone. :) Good to know about these two new content approaches. I'll come again next week if I can. I have firewall issues, and can only come when I can find an empty analog line here. :)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- firewall issues? that's a surprise. This variety of software shouldn't be inhibited by firewalls. This isn't IRC. It's plain old HTML.

Mari Badger -- Thanks all. I enjoyed and will be back next week.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- As usual I'll post the transcript at www.samizdat.com/chat.html Before you sign off, please post your email and URL addresses (don't presume the software caught it.)

Greg Schmergel -- Richard: Thanks for hosting the chat again this week. I can't make next week, but I will certainly check the transcripts!

Karin Ricketts -- Karin Ricketts, karinricketts@learnlots.com, www.learnlots.com

Kaye Vivian -- Signing off. Thanks again for having the chats, Richard. :) It takes a lot of work on your part, I know! :) kvivian@cloud9.net Kaye Vivian

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks again. I hope you all can join us next week. Please spread the word. 


Previous transcripts and schedule of upcoming chats -- www.samizdat.com/chat.html

To connect to the chat room, go to www.samizdat.com/chat-intro.html

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