Thursday, November 13, 2008


I read with interest about the new service that came out of Google's philanthropic arm. By culling data from the last 5 year's of searches and running it against reports for the Centers for Disease Control Reports, Google found that they were two weeks to ten days ahead of the CDC in learning about the outbreaks. I hope they call it "Floogle".

What a great use of "data exhuast". I think it also shows how important it is for publishers to see and understand how their customers construct queries on their databases. It can be such a great data set to mine for new products or to improve existing ones. 20 years ago while working in Washington DC, I used to file Freedom of Information Act requests at the Securities & Exchange Commission for all the other FOIA requests that had been filed. We found some great product ideas and market insight in those letters. The Internet makes the process a whole lot easier!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Free Launch

I attended the InfoCommerce Conference in Philadelphia this week and caught Ann Michael’s interesting session on launching products. She was joined by Michael Balsam , VP Products & Services, Onvia and Adam Bernacki, VP Sales & Marketing Leadership Directories.

Ann started out by remarking how change has affected product launches. Back in the day of books you had to be perfect because if a mistake was made it would live forever. This is not true in the Internet world – you can no longer afford to be perfect as you'll never get the product out the door. The panel addressed this phenomenon by reviewing its impact at several places along the development process.

Michael talked about how Onvia publishes 60+ million pages per year with all sorts of detail about government contracts. This information can help clients like Dell know a year ahead of time when and where a new school would be built. Dell can use information to help them size future markets

Onvia’s development process includes Strategic Planning, Market Needs & Satisfaction, and User Experience. Onvia tries to drive toward the most profitable opportunities. They then try and understand the current and potential competitive landscape. They profile and segment markets based on unmet needs and finally benchmark and measure key performance indicators over time. They strive toward designing offers that are intuitive and workflow compatible. This informs their go to market planning.

Mike also extolled the benefits of agile product development versus waterfall and making sure to work from the “market back”. Agile really fits the notion of not letting "perfect be the enemy of the good".

Adam Bernacki provided some background on Leadership Directories, known to many as the “publishers of the Yellow Books”. The Leadership Directories product is a “handcrafted” database with 70 editors/reporters covering 500,000 people. There are 5000 changes made every day.

As with Onvia, their process is also strategy driven. Here are a few of the measures they use:

1) Does the product support our strategic direction?

2) Does the product make money?
-Can you define success in absolute dollars and absolute time frame.

3)Is the product experimental enough?
-What does it teach us about our world, our market and our customers?

He shared their requirements for a measuring stick:
· Measure of commercial success should be both time-bound and absolutely clear in terms of sales achievements floors and ceiling targets
· New product has to produce 1-2% of our annualized sales in the 1st 12 months

Adam then walked us through a sales pipeline example with real numbers to show how truly ambitious this program really is. Net, net – 3200 sales hours or two people working full time for a year to achieve the goal!

These processes have led them to some great successes and some learning experiences.

The session finished with a lot of great questions as the publishers in the audience tried to gain insights on when to kill a product and how product use data is repurposed to create enhancements.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Selling Cookbooks by Giving Away Recipes

I'm an avid cook and am the person responsible for the grocery shopping and cooking at our house. An article entitled "A Plan to Sell Cookbooks: Give Away Recipes Online" in the Saturday New York Times caught my eye. Reporter Motoko Rich writes about a site called Cookster that draws on recipes from chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali and a hundred or so others. Each recipe will appear on a page with a picture of the chef and links to places to buy the book. Users will be able to search the site using a multitude of criteria. Founder Will Schwalbe said the site will go live with 2,500 recipes and he hopes to expand it to 10,000.

The aim of the site is to sell more cookbooks. It is hoped that by giving recipes away as samples, people will buy the books. This business model has worked very well for Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, neither of whom are participating. Not surprisingly Cookstr will be suppored by advertising revenues. In another nod to the Web 2.0 world, publishers said they hoped the site would draw attention not only to new books but also to old ones ( no mention of the long tail in the article!).

On the face of it, the idea shows some promise. If a cook likes a recipe they may come back and buy the book. It seems the real challenge is in getting attention on the web. The article mentions epicurious, foodnetwork and allrecipes as competing sites and I use them all. I wonder how Cookstr will break through the clutter. Just as with products for B2B professionals, you need to understand the workflow of your customer. When I go to cook something I'm looking for a recipe like pot roast. I don't start out thinking about how Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse make it. My guess is that Cookstr will have to spend heavily on recipe key words to break through and this may be a daunting task.