Back when print was king, competing publishers would never have considered sharing content. But, in an age where digital is becoming the preferred source for news and information, the rules are changing and sharing news with a competitor is no longer off limits. “That’s sort of the genesis of what the Internet is about,” says Dan Orum, CEO of IDG Entertainment, whose parent company, the International Data Group, owns more than 400 Web sites in 80 countries.
“Some of our competitors have our content on their sites and we have our competitors’ content on our site right now,” says Orum, referencing IDG’s Games.net Web site. “You can’t have aggregation that’s mutually exclusive. Reviews of video games are very big with our audience. So when a new video game comes out, you review it, but you can also direct your audience to other reviews.” Even so, Orum and others believe it’s important for publishers to maintain their own brand and mix-in plenty of original content to keep the audience coming back.
Still, content aggregation alone will not bring people back to Web sites. The aggregators say news from other sources should be mixed with original content including news and feature stories from the Web site’s own writers, interactive activities such as blogs and community forums, and original video programming.
With Time Warner as a parent company, CNNMoney.com has the advantage of aggregating content from not only CNN and Money, but from its sister business and finance publications Fortune, Fortune Small Business and Business 2.0. But even with the competitive advantage, CNNMoney.com vice president and executive editor Chris Peacock says the site still uses the occasional wire story from Reuters or the Associated Press. “For the stories we post from the wires, we generally put our own headlines on them, our own stamp on them,” he says, “It is packaged in a way that gives you a sense of the brand as well. If it’s a news story Fortune has done previous work on, we’ll package the wire story with the stories we’ve already done.”
American Business Media CEO Gordon Hughes says cooperation is key to the future of b-to-b media. “From where we sit, all we want to do is encourage the people we represent to share best practices,” he said. “We’re not asking that they give up anything proprietary. That doesn’t mean The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety can’t still be competitors, but the b-to-b arena was started on a cooperative basis so there’s that fundamental tradition.”
Unlike print, Orum says there really are no competitors online. “If you’re worried about (competition) in the Internet business, you won’t be in business very long,” he says. “Anybody can aggregate, but you can’t just aggregate for the sake of it. You have create a level of original content around that.”
To make itself stand out, Games.net offers unique video content, game trailers and downloads, interactive blogs, and feature stories, Orum says. “It’s shedding that old print mentality and embracing the kind of approach where you take the commodity, which is the aggregated content, and build a community around it,” he adds. “You can’t just have a message board anymore, it’s got to be more than that. You’ve got to allow your audience to comment on stories, provide interesting profile pages that they can use, create a forum for them to submit and ask questions, let them write user reviews. If you can do that, it’s a big win for publishers.”
Likewise, CNNMoney.com has built a community for its audience. The site recently added a lifestyle channel, which offers content about everything from “cool cars” to vacations, Peacock says. The site also added a new blog for the technology sector, which aggregates blogs from technology experts.
Not only is the blog giving the site’s audience some interesting insights, but it’s also providing CNNMoney.com and its sister publications with numerous news tips. “When you talk about multi-sourced aggregation, a new medium like blogging is certainly part of that,” Peacock says.
Still, with so much content and only so much space, how do editors choose which stories to run? “We run as many as 60 stories a day and there is a lot of stuff to choose from,” Peacock says. “What’s unique about a Web site for editors is that you have the ability to check your gut against what readers are choosing. You know up-to-the-minute which headlines are being clicked on and how people are moving through the site. But we still have a responsibility to present our readers with the news they didn’t know they wanted and provide them with the news that’s a little less obvious.”
Orum says he knows his audience will visit other sites, but tries to provide them with the most engaging news and products while they’re on his sites.
“The way I look at is if (a competitor) writes a review, that’s great,” he says. “I don’t have to limit myself to only my content. And maybe I don’t get credit for every page view on my site, but with each visit I’m building more loyalty with my audience and I’m keeping them around with original programming.”
And so far, says Orum, cooperation has worked for IDG. “We’re still in the nascent stage of making it work,” he says. “But on Games.net, we’ve doubled our traffic in a year and we send out content to competitors.”