Publishers and B2B v’s B2C API Value

Jack Marshall at Digitimes posted a great article this week on Publishers entering the API Era – definitely worth a read. We’re seeing many of the same dynamics across APIs 3scale manage also (both in text media, data, video and music). It’s interesting to see various trends play out andth ere are arguably two distinct high level types of APIs emerging in the publishing space which are not always distinguished:

  • Business-to-Business Data Publishing: companies such as Reuters, Bloomberg and Lexis Nexis have long published data in a Business-to-Business sense and are increasingly turning to APIs to help make this process seamless for their customers. The data can be sliced and diced by API in ways which via previous means such as terminal access just wasn’t possible. Business models also clearly revolve around the sale of access to data (the Data is the main event).
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  • Direct to Consumer Media Content Publishing: the second broad class is for media companies who reach consumers more directly and effectively provide an end product such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and others. While the sale of content itself is an important element of these businesses, at least as important are associated revenue streams such as advertising and syndication that monetise the other key assets these companies have – namely the their readership and public brand value.

These two types of business are often talked about together with respect to APIs but they are actually very different.

Business-to-Business data publishing is seeing significant year on year growth according to analysts such as Outsell (4-7% depending on the category) and the switch to digital is accelerating. APIs are enabling finer grained distribution of this data, tighter integration to specific providers  and the ability to open access to mid-sized and smaller customers (one of the key drivers of Bloomberg’s recent announcements). APIs will no doubt act as an enabling mechanism for companies in the Business-to-Business Data space to make their data available to wider audiences.

On the direct to consumer side, things are arguably more complex and the business environment is significantly more challenging. Direct to consumer publishers have two key assets – their content and their audience and face an increasing struggle against loosing touch with their audience as distribution channels such as Apple’s iTunes store, Google, Facebook and Amazon become the main points of user access to content. While such channels deliver volume, they risk disintermediating publishers from their audiences (See GigaOm/Businessweek’s take on this for example) – something which would substantially harm the ability to deliver crucial revenue via channels such as advertising (the less you know about your user, the weaker your ability to deliver relevant advertising against your content). This creates a conundrum – easing access to data so that it can more easily flow into these channels or trying to retain a connection the audience.

For both objectives, APIs have a strong role to play – as programs such as those from the Guardian and the New York times have shown, APIs can drive innovation in how content reaches the consumer and in what forms they experience it – particular on mobile platforms. This opens up the number of potential distribution channels and potentially spreads risk from dependence on just a few key channels.

Furthermore, APIs provide the ability to deliver content in “multi-channel” way to multiple locations – potentially based on a single subscriber identity (3scale’s systems allow API providers to do this) – this is a crucial ability that opening the door for publishers to take closer control of which users are accessing their content independent of the channel. The notion of a channel independent content subscription (or at least user identifier) is likely to be a central element in enabling publishers to maintain their connection with their audience.

Companies such as PeekYou, Peoplebrowsr, Klout and others now also provide valuable data by APIs which can help understand users and add value to their experience while accessing content.