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By Tim Buckley Owen

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If anyone should think that the free web now has business news covered, it’s time to think again. Decision makers’ use of news is certainly important enough to have attracted the attention of information industry consultant Outsell, which recently published a hefty (and heftily priced) piece of research on ‘Targeting Power News Users: who they are, what they read and how they use the news’ – details at http://www.outsellinc.com/store/products/327. At $895, it’s not for the casual reader – but news providers and aggregators are likely to be studying it with interest. Based on 2,787 surveys of US consumers, it finds that power news users consume more news and have higher incomes than other news users, and are news sharers. It’s also a fair bet that many are key decision makers in the sorts of corporations for which information professionals work. If it does nothing else, this should nail the myth that free news sources threaten priced ones at decision maker level. In a recent briefing to VIP and other information industry journalists, Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group President Clare Hart (formerly head of Factiva) made clear that anyone who believes news is all free now doesn’t have a clear understanding of what sort of content drives competitive advantage. Plenty of information professionals do take news very seriously, as recurrent discussions on FreePint testify. Last year – http://web.freepint.com/forum/bar/read.php?i=58565 – there was detailed discussion of the features and costs of Thomson Business Intelligence, LexisNexis and Factiva. One contributor had actually done a small scale in-house comparison of the three, and VIP subsequently published a detailed comparison in issue 37 of December 2006 – http://web.vivavip.com/go/vip/37. More recently there have been exchanges – http://web.freepint.com/forum/bar/read.php?i=129604 – on alternatives to Thomson Business Intelligence, with Westlaw All News Plus and Newsedge canvassed as possibilities. High quality news is clearly still important, and so is a competitive marketplace for it – and there may be signs that this competition is under threat. When Dow Jones acquired Reuters’ 50% share in Factiva, Reuters agreed not to compete on Factiva’s territory for two years. Now – if News Corporation succeeds in acquiring Dow Jones and Thomson grabs Reuters – we could face the possibility of four business news providers effectively reducing to two. With a market share that would take it just ahead of Bloomberg, the Thomson Reuters tie-up might face investigation by regulatory authorities in Europe and the US if it went ahead. But if the competition authorities did succumb to the generally held view that all news is now free on the web, and consequently deals of this kind don’t matter, there’s a danger that they could allow this uncompetitive situation to come about by default.

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