Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birtannica gets over and gets clever

I used to really like the Encyclopedia Britannica. By "used to," I mean of course, "before Wikipedia." It's a fine reference work, and I never had anything against it until they, and others, started getting smarmissimus about how Wikipedia sucks because it's written by people who aren't on the staff of an encyclopedia. And how kids shouldn't be citing it as a resource. Etc. etc.

Now... I don't want to get into a fight about Wikipedia. I don't care if you like it or not or have issues with it. This is not an opinion piece. The fact of the matter is, Wikipedia gets waaaay more hits than Britannica. Maybe it's because Wikipedia is free. Maybe it's because it has lots more articles. Maybe it's because people like to think that anybody (themselves included) is smart enough to help somebody else out with a reference question.

Maybe it's all about elves and pixies. Repeat: I don't care. From a marketing and sales perspective, yelping about how your customers are dumb because they choose a competitor is, well... dumb.  Britannica could hop about, get red in the face, and produce volumes of statistics about how it's better. If users don't have a compelling reason to go there, they'll go somewhere else.

What Britannica *should* have been doing is figuring out a way to get more people into their space. Which they now have, with a very clever little program called Britannica WebShare. Basically, if you write a blog or publish on the Web in any way, you can apply for a free year of access to the entire online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and link to the full articles there.

That's clever. Very clever. My readers now have an ancillary benefit from my blogging relationship with EB. If you're a regular ol' person with no subscription to EB (it costs $70/year normally), and you look up "Wikipedia," you get this:
Wikipedia:  free, Internet-based encyclopaedia operating under an open-source management style. It is overseen by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia uses a collaborative software known as wiki that facilitates the creation and development of articles. The English-language version of Wikipedia began in 2001. It had more than one million articles by March 2006 and more…

Wikipedia... (75 of 754 words)

But if you go to that same article from a link on my blog, even if you don't have a subscription, you can see the whole thing.

Yep. All 754 words. You're welcome.

Very, very smart. They have turned chunks of their content into advertising for the whole, and enlisted the help of people who build the Web to engage in that advertising. They get links and good marketing, I (and my readers) get full text articles.

This is a good thing to think about in a general way -- how can other content owners release some subset of what they create/own in ways that promote an economic model that makes sense for them?

PS: If you're interested in the full text of any particular Britannica article, let me know and I'll work it into a blog post   ;-)

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