free html hit counter Louis Borders and KeepMedia - John Battelle's Search Blog

Louis Borders and KeepMedia

By - January 23, 2004

Today was a meet-with-interesting-folks day, starting with Louis Borders and Doug Herrington, Chair and CEO, in that order, of KeepMedia. Doug and Louis last worked together on WebVan, which I loved as a service. “We overexpanded,” Doug confessed. I can relate.

KeepMedia has some grand visions of where it might be headed (think learning and communities), but it’s quite busy focusing on its current model, which is providing what I’ll call a “clean and well lit space for magazine search.” OK, so I see most things through the search lens, but really, when you think about it, folks who use the KeepMedia service are looking for content that matches their particular interests, and the KeepMedia service has some interesting search and personal filtering technologies to meet that intent.
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First, the basics. KeepMedia does deals with magazine publishers (150 to date, with about 5 a month coming online) to put their archives online. It also sells one-off articles in current issues, and subscriptions. But the near term idea is broader than putting your local library’s periodical reading room online – the idea here is that folks can, for $4.95/mo., create their own meta-subscription service of sorts, in the process cobbling together real value for the money. It’s a poorly kept secret in the much-maligned magazine business that most subscribers read a small percentage of the total content they get in any given issue. The idea behind KeepMedia, among others, is that you can read only that which you want, and move on to other publications without paying more. After a while, you’ve created a bricolage of content that is driven at the article level, as opposed to the publication level. Cool? Cool.

Problem is, most folks don’t want to work very hard to make all this happen. This is where you get to the personalization aspects of the service. KeepMedia suggests articles you might be interested in – much as TiVo does for TV – based on what you’ve read already. And it tries to keep its suggestions fresh – one tangent into Popular Woodworking won’t bring up lumber articles for the rest of eternity.

In any case, Louis and Doug are keeping their staff and operations lean, and hope to get to a subscription level that will give them some throw weight in the Dead Tree Publishing space. In other words, magazine publishers are not, have never been, and it seems will never be in the web business. KeepMedia offers an opportunity for publishers to employ a model by which they might be paid for their archived content, while focusing on what they are supposed to be good at: making magazines. Louis, Doug and I had a very robust discussion about magazines – careful readers of this blog know I am a romantic sucker for magazines, but I’m also appalled at how far from most publishers have strayed from their original mission of providing community with content.

What are publishers spending most of their time on? Staunching the bleeding in circulation and advertising. Most successful models are those delivering the lowest common denominators of celebrity and scandal. Sigh. What happened to great editorial creating a great community, which advertisers then valued appropriately? Well…it’s just so damn expensive to assemble that audience (circulation and advertising), and it’s so damn expensive (and inefficient) to deliver them a paper product in the mail (distribution).

The internet seems a perfect solution to both the circulation and distribution dilemmas. If only we could also solve the final problem: that thing I call, for lack of a more academic term, the Thing problem. For the thing is, a magazine is a Thing. And most – nay, nearly all – online publications are not. As I’ve said many times, most magazine websites blow. I have thoughts on how to solve this problem, which perhaps I’ll work out here, but…another time.

For now, keep your eye on KeepMedia. Think of it as a paid RSS model for magazines, and webservices for magazine publishers. For magazine publishers should not be in the Building Technology And Sales Models So As To Monetize The Content business. Why should every one of them reinvent the wheel just for the net (ahem)? Think of KeepMedia as the magazine’s industry’s Rhapsody or iTunes. Why not get rid of all that overhead, focus on making kickass content, and learn to love the web? Just a (rather long-winded) thought….

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