Lycos To Charge For Search? Well, Not Really...

Last month, the head of Terra Lycos in the United States told Reuters that the company was looking to diversify its revenue stream by charging for subscription services, including search.

Is it really true? Will Terra Lycos be the first major company to try to charge for search since Infoseek's failed experiment with the model, back in 1995?

Nope, it's not true, at least from a searcher's perspective. What Terra Lycos means by search "subscriptions" are really services aimed at the web site owner market.

"The initial services are going to be targeted at the web site owner. They will not be paying for search results but more services that a web site owner would want to utilize," said Bryan Burdick, vice president of portal services for Terra Lycos.

Burdick wouldn't say specifically what these services will be, but did say they'd be in line with what some other search engines have offered site owners.

"Our first set of services are not going to be terribly unique, but we will have some twists to it that will be value added," Burdick said. He added that the new services should be available after the New Year.

My prediction? Expect Lycos.com and other Lycos-owned search engines to offer paid inclusion on their Add URL pages. Of course, Terra Lycos doesn't crawl the web itself but instead contracts this out to FAST. So, any "paid inclusion" program with Terra Lycos will simply be sending your URLs on to FAST, with the two companies sharing revenue.

Given this, you needn't wait until after the first of the year, if you want to get started. FAST already has a paid inclusion program in beta testing, so you can enroll in it now. It's expected that this program will come out of beta testing later this month, with finalized pricing.

But what about consumer search subscriptions? Might that also happen? Not likely, says Terra Lycos:

"We have no immediate plans to have consumer-oriented subscriptions," Burdick said. "It would be pretty difficult for anyone out there to start charging for their existing search results set," he explained. "There's really not much you have invested as user."

The idea here, as I've written about before, is that there's no strong barrier to switching search providers, as there is with email providers. For example, if Yahoo began charging for its email accounts, some users would pay just so as not to have the hassle of telling everyone their new email address with another provider.

In contrast, if Google were to suddenly start charging for search, despite the high-quality of results, many people would probably still find that other search engines gave them what they wanted, for free. The barrier against switching just isn't as strong.

What about the idea of being able to search and not see banners, paid listings and other advertisements?

"Consumers aren't even willing to pay to have banners removed," Burdick said. He likened the idea to the old concept of having cable television in order to escape ads. "Today, most cable channels do have ads."

The exception here is with premium channels, like movie offerings. That might also be the case with search. Subscriptions might work for those wishing to perform "premium" searches in particular topic areas. But for general searching, expect it to remain free from all major providers.

By the way, last month I praised Lycos for finally clearly labeling the paid listings it carries as "Sponsored Search Listings." Sadly, not three weeks later, the company was back to its old habits, calling them "Featured Listings" and now "Products & Services."

Terra Lycos Says Exploring Paid Services
Reuters, Nov. 8, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011108/wr/media_terralycos_dc_1.html

Original article where subscription search and other services from Terra Lycos are mentioned.

How Yahoo Will Make You Pay
TheStreet.com, Nov. 23, 2001
http://www.thestreet.com/tech/georgemannes/10004325.html

A look at how Terra Lycos-competitor Yahoo may try to get users to pay for services through its access partnership with SBC Communications.

FAST Partner Site
http://www.fastsearch.com/partnersite/

More about FAST's paid inclusion program can be found here.

Lycos Redeems Itself With Relaunch
The Search Engine Update, Nov. 5, 2001
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/articles/0111-lycos.html

More about how Lycos utilizes search results from FAST.

Time For The Search Dividend?
The Search Engine Report, April 2, 2001
http://www.searchenginewatch.com/sereport/01/04-dividend.html

Some previous comments from me on the idea of search subscriptions.