What lesson from Britannica.com deluge?

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When Britannica.com announced last week that they were switching from a subscription model to a free-with-banner-ads model, the reaction was so swift and overwhelming that they've been down ever since. What does this say about ecommerce? What lessons can we learn? Why didn't Slate have the same reaction?

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), November 01, 1999


Some first impressions of Britannica.com:

- they have reprints of book reviews for some of my fave authors, which I hadn't found elsewhere

- their articles on most of my authors are far less helpful than others I've found on the Web, except for Jospeh McElroy

- a search for 'Harold Brodkey' causes an empty-document error (bug?)

- lots of their links are to NYTimes reviews and require registration

- they missed most of my author pages in their links-lists, and the one they found they gave a totally unfair 'one star' to

It will be interesting to see if any search-engines manage to spider the site. Overall, I'm underwhelmed.

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), November 06, 1999.

Well, one clear lesson is that you don't throw away 100 years of building brand identity. On the other hand, it also heralds the increasing commoditization of certain kinds of information. Just as happened in the browser wars, it doesn't matter how good your product is if somebody else is prepared to practically give theirs away: Britannica is playing Netscape to Microsoft's Encarta here. So, the brand had enormous value, but EB's problem is how to "get at it", how to deliver to the customer with a suitable return.

-- Dan Hartung (dhartung@wwa.SPAMBLOCK.com), November 01, 1999.

Maybe it's too obvious, but Slate was almost completely unheard of outside of the Internet. It never made a splash in the mainstream media and thus millions of newly-introduced-to-the-internet people had no clue what Slate was about. So when Slate went free, who cared? No one.

Marketing can only hide the uselessness of a bad product for a little while. Slate didn't fill a need that existed. Britannica does.

As far as lessons to be learned, it should be painfully clear now that if you have the slightest inkling that your product will be well- received or that there is pent-up demand, you can NOT dip your toe into the water, you must put up a solid infrastructure from day one or risk tarnishing your brand. Britannica lost a great opportunity here to show why it is much better than Encarta, but a fair chunk of their audience won't be back right away.

-- Kip DeGraaf (kip@monroe.lib.mi.us), November 01, 1999.

britanica.com has validated 'root' content worth much more then the filthy link lists yahoo is based on. the only question is: does a majority of users want validated quality content now that commerce is king ?

if they would provide some kind of context system, some way to provide a persistant linkage to their public content data base... it could become a new mega attractor - IF the users want to link...

so investors where to go? for the lowest common denominator of the user-consumer or for another net.enlightment?

-- pit (pit@mikro.org), February 10, 2000.

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