Lists vs. Data
Originally appeared in Publishing Executive
Lists have been the lifeblood of publishing. I wonder if we are all on the same page as to where lists end and data begins.
Building lists, nurturing them, testing, segmenting . . . truly a juncture of art and science in publishing. The essentials never really change, just the availability and quantity of data and the means to use it.
A publication's success depends in no small part on the size, freshness and quality of your lists. This motivates all sorts of creativity. A fabled editor I knew had a reputation for derring-do in obtaining lists. The best stories involved him raiding trash bins after trade shows, scoring discarded registration lists.
I've spidered lists off the internet, a cleaner, dignity-saving version of dumpster diving. Now data-scraping is the buzz. Do you know the difference between spidering and scraping? Me neither; but free lists are free lists. I have a simple line I draw. If published data states nobody should copy it, I don't. Otherwise I see everything on the internet as free data.
Changing values The first controlled circulation, B2B magazine I launched was in 1978, a time most trade publications still sold plenty of subscriptions. The more our industry embraced controlled circ, the less direct revenue per-name initially. It was still important to have quality subscribers for our advertisers, to be sure; but they no longer wrote us checks.
Now it is more likely you are using lists to build conference attendance or provide lead generation to advertisers. This has made the data attached to each name and address the real value, so we gladly trade magazine subscriptions for that data.
With data exchanges becoming increasingly powerful and tracking cookies now pervasive – and more ad revenue moving online – does anyone care about your lists? Do they still have the value they did 5-10 years ago? Are you renting as many lists, of any kind? Is your own list-rental income what it was?
Last year I had access to a list of ten million business readers. I asked a major B2B advertising player what that was worth to them. Mailing lists rent for $120-150 per thousand; and this list would have been sold, not rented. Yet this company said millions of names were worth nothing to them. They believe most business names worth knowing have already been gathered by the data exchanges, using IP addresses. Using specific B2B publishers to reach specific business buyers is not of great interest to them.
In the view of an increasing number of B2B marketers, your lists (i.e. audience) are not nearly as important as those lists data-exchanges like Exelate and BlueKai provide the industry. This enables advertisers to chase the IP address of potential buyers with their ads, rather than finding a healthy group of prospects on a website aimed at their target audience.
Have you unintentionally undermined the value of your lists, and by extension your audience? If you allow ad networks to use your subscriber and registration data, might your publication slowly bleed to death? Do you have agreements in place limiting the use of your data? If you do, have you any ability to enforce them? Once enough publishers share their hard-earned lists and data, the toothpaste cannot be put back into the tube.