Securing high-value content: How to ensure the right content doesn’t fall into the wrong hands

As thieves try to steal expensive content and customers ignore the terms of their subscription licence by ‘sharing’ with colleagues, securing paid-for published reports and data must be a priority for market analysis firms.

As a publisher of market intelligence, imagine the following scenario. Coca-Cola*, one of your largest corporate accounts, purchases an enterprise license for your annual overview of the global soft drinks market. The report is delivered to them as a PDF, and you assume it is being used internally as per the stated licensing agreement. However, you soon learn that Pepsi* are using data in presentations and business reports that could only have come from one place: your annual overview of the global soft drinks market. But you know that Pepsi didn’t purchase a copy!

Often in this situation, content is not shared with malicious intent: many customers simply have a laissez-faire attitude to licensing and sending a report to a friend in a rival organisation is often done thoughtlessly due to the ease of sharing PDFs. In other instances, it is done deliberately to steal revenues and undercut the publisher’s hard work. Regardless of intent, both forms of distribution are financially damaging for publishers.

*(disclaimer: Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been referenced purely for illustrative purposes and this example does not reflect on the integrity of their employees!)

Production Costs

Business information’s value is unquantifiable, but the content’s price reflects the production costs for a niche market, the expertise of the author and the cost of research and data collection.

Syndicated market research reports are undoubtedly highly valuable products. Every report is produced by several teams, from the authoring analyst (or analysts) to editorial who ensure factual correctness and consistency, followed by production who work on design, layout, and quality control. Sales and marketing teams then join the fold to decide how to package and sell the content. This process involves many people, many hours of work, and significant expense to the publisher.

Securing this painstakingly produced, high-value content is at the forefront of any provider’s mind and is increasingly relevant as cyber-security concerns seep into our everyday working and personal lives. Content is extremely easy to steal or lose control of in a complex and ever-changing digital security landscape. Publishers should be aware of the common security hazards, and solutions, that regularly trouble providers of market intelligence.

Copyright Theft

At its crudest, copyright theft is stealing, re-packaging and selling, usually at cut-price, the same content publishers have spent weeks or months putting together. Copyright theft is a growing issue in the B2B publishing community, as with increasing regularity, organised networks work together to obtain high-value content, remove any references to the actual copyright owner from the report, dataset or video and market it often for a fraction of the price.

One industry figure posting in the Renewd online community, a network for subscriptions professionals and B2B publishers, identified over 80 pseudo-information firms working together to disseminate copyrighted material and shockingly found over 90 examples of their content listed on 11 individual sites. Networks of this nature will grow in number and become more sophisticated in their tactics, so publishers must be aware of this threat.

Solution: Vet all purchasers of your content – ensure that buyers input some personal information before making purchases. If, for example, an individual is trying to buy a $4,000 report and has no associated company of note this should raise alarm bells.

Mass Sharing

In a similar vein to copyright theft, mass sharing involves the downloading of licensed content and distributing without the permission of the publisher. Often unlicensed distribution of content is committed by one of your loyal (or so you thought) subscribers rather than an anonymous denizen of the internet.

There are 3 main forms of mass sharing:

  1. The internal sharer – occurs when a registered user downloads a whole report and uploads it to their corporate intranet or internal knowledge centre.
  2. The external distributor – this offence arises when a user shares content with friends outside of their organisation.
  3. The home drive saver – involves fewer people but still takes the content out of the publishers’ possession and could evolve into the other two distributors in the future.

Commenting on this type of threat, Edwin Bailey, Director of Marketing at Content Catalyst, who has over 20 years of experience in licensing content said; “Content delivered as PDFs via email is most at risk to this form of theft, and although publishers may have DRM systems in place these can be easily bypassed via password sharing or manipulation of the PDF document’s properties. Most subscribers are, of course, reliable and trustworthy. However, it only takes one user to bypass these rudimentary safeguards before your content is freely passed around another corporate account without your knowledge.”

Solution: Invest in a content delivery system capable of tracking content usage and managing access rights. Analytics and licensing allow greater control over usage and enables site administrators to keep tabs on potential rule-breakers. Having settings that prevent users from downloading whole reports offline can also be an effective preventative measure.

“Most subscribers are, of course, reliable and trustworthy. However, it only takes one user to bypass these rudimentary safeguards before your content is freely passed around another corporate account without your knowledge.”

Edwin Bailey

Director of Marketing, Content Catalyst

Corporate account sharing and fair use policy

Fair use policies have often been a sticking point between publishers and clients. Breaches of fair use frequently come in the form of password sharing amongst colleagues. Corporate licenses are granted with certain limits – a common restriction being the number of users associated with the account. Once the company reaches the pre-agreed number of users accessing the provider’s content, the client should move to the next pricing bracket and be charged a higher fee for access.

For example, a corporate team buying an account with 20 registered users when there are 100 members in their department should be flagged as a risk. If unregistered customer employees then ask the publisher’s analysts or salespeople content-related questions, this is an obvious sign of unauthorised access and may confirm the suspicion of password sharing.

Solution: Tracking IP access is a handy way of getting a sense of the number of devices accessing your site. Again, usage analytics, particularly those related to log-ins and geographical location are vital: if you can see that a certain account is logged in 24 hours a day with constant activity, it’s possible to deduce that the password is not just being shared amongst direct colleagues but across multiple time-zones – a major breach of fair usage policy.

Password breaches

In June of 2021, the largest ever password data breach was leaked – 8.4 billion passwords in total were compromised1. This problem is not sector-specific, but the sheer volume of passwords leaked every year makes this an issue publishers should be wary of.

Tom Gibbs, CIO at Content Catalyst who has been at the forefront of keeping Publish Interactive secure, explains that “the ubiquitous threat of data breaches means publishers should strive to implement security via a combination of best practices and a robust tech ecosystem.” Five security features he recommends that publishers should consider to ensure content security are (these are also all features of the Publish Interactive platform):

  1. 2-Factor authentication – reduces the chance of password sharing among colleagues and external attackers as only permitted IP addresses will receive entry codes.
  2. Password age – a setting that allows site administrators to enforce the frequency that users must reset their password.
  3. Trusted domains – restricts which email domains can access the site.
  4. ReCAPTCHA – this widget will ensure bots are unable to register to your site.
  5. SSO integration – with providers Okta and Microsoft Azure AD, facilitating better password practices and more secure log-in systems.

Solution: Invest in subscription software or a content delivery platform that has a range of features designed to counteract and reduce the threat of content breaches. It’s also important to sign-up to specialist password protectors, such as LastPass for your internal employees and if you are sharing passwords over email, ensure you use encrypted password services, such as PW Push.

A more secure future

Publishers must ensure the security of their content – the myriad of threats can be hard to keep up with, but with the right technology, secure best practice policies and the diligence of employees to monitor and track unusual activity, your painstakingly produced content can be kept safe and secure.

1https://www.itechpost.com/articles/105916/20210608/rockyou-2021-breach-exposes-8-4-billion-passwords-check-now.htm

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Related Content

Understanding what revenue risks subscription technology should mitigate

Publishers of high-value market intelligence need to ensure they have the technology building blocks in place to be deliver profitable subscription revenue.

Picture the scene: you run a research firm that emails PDFs to clients, even though this is fraught with opportunities for your report content to be used outside the agreed licence and doesn’t enable you to gather any feedback beyond registering to whom the report was originally sent.

You know your firm needs to move towards a subscription model where a technical solution is put in place to deliver content to clients – but even that is not without peril.

So, when weighing up introduction of a subscription technology, what possible future issues should it be able to mitigate?

Retained access

By far the biggest headache for publishers using a less advanced subscription system is around individuals leaving one job, but retaining access to a publisher’s content. This can endanger IP and damages revenues.

How does a publisher lessen the impact of this kind of behaviour?

Email and ID security

Smart subscription software can limit the impact of unlawful access by only accepting log-ins from company email addresses and insisting on a two-factor identification.

When an individual leaves one role, it’s highly likely they’ll be shut out of their old email account; therefore, when the time comes for them to update their log-in details, they won’t be able to access the automated email asking that prompts this change, and their old log-in will become obsolete.

What’s more, two-stage verification of this kind discourages subscribers from sharing log-ins widely with friends and colleagues, as the need to regularly re-verify becomes burdensome.

Mass downloading

The other nightmare scenario is that a subscriber downloads your entire portfolio and then fails to renew their subscription.

There are several ways a smart publishing system can help to alleviate this problem. The first is around access rights; if a subscription simply buys a client unrestricted access to a publisher’s entire portfolio (so-called ‘all-you-can-eat subscriptions’) there is little in the way to discourage this kind of behaviour.

A smart system isn’t going to provide all-you-can-eat access to more than a handful of ‘power’ subscribers. It’s therefore unlikely that the opportunity will exist for a single person to download every piece of content. It’s also a significant deterrent that any information taken in a mass download would have repeated and regular use of the individual account user’s personal details across every piece of content.

An even more significant deterrent to mass downloading is management of the content. Any individual with access to an entire portfolio would also have access to the inbuilt workflow tools needed to search, edit, adapt, and make sense of all that information. A mass downloaded would also mean abandoning this suite of tools. Making sense of such a huge volume of content without these tools would be thankless, unrewarding, and an almost impossibly time-consuming task.

Customer behaviour, renewals, and engagement

Of course, using a smart publishing system can help mitigate a lot of the difficulty around mass downloads as the content usage of individual account holders is monitored in real time. Unusual behaviour can trigger alerts enabling the publisher to intervene.

Related difficulties around managing grace periods, blocking individual access, and dealing with expired subscriptions can also be dealt with through a system that feeds back rich account information to the publisher.

With a system that flags an individual’s poor or limited use of content, non-engagement, and upcoming renewals, the risk of non-renewal can be managed out of the client base through good quality customer service.

Individuals who aren’t making the most of their subscription can be given help by the publisher to maximise its value; this could be as simple as providing tutorials around use of workflow tools, or offers of content that’s more appropriate to their needs.

Whatever the issue for the customer, good quality behavioural information and a system of alerts can help the publisher enact a solution before the situation turns critical and a valuable source of revenue is lost.

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Business intelligence publishers risk undermining their value if they don’t empower corporate users

Providers of market intelligence must offer in-house,  corporate competitive intelligence  and research teams an easy way to access, repurpose and share knowledge.

Rapidly evolving markets and the burgeoning digital economy mean the business intelligence world is undergoing fundamental transformation – one effect of this change is an existential pressure being applied on the in-house research teams producing competitive and market intelligence.

These teams face challenges on two fronts: to manage reports and data in way that maximises the value of this material in a fast-paced digital environment and to prove their own worth to those who might question their usefulness. For a function that grew out of the corporate library, that is usually regarded as a cost centre, and has often seen a reduction in funding and headcount, that’s a tough ask.

So, how do they face down these challenges and become an essential element of a forward-looking organisation? The answer lies in improving their technology – and this is where publishers of market analysis can help (and at the same time help themselves).

Bountiful research, not easily found

Corporates and large consulting firms spend millions of dollars buying-in research, but many of these organisations fail to make the most of their investment because of the way that information is stored and accessed.

Often, reports are stored as PDFs and data is kept in spreadsheets in a shared drive. Although everyone can access this information, the reality is they don’t. The time and difficulty involved in sifting through documents to locate vital material will simply prove prohibitive. The pain associated with extracting and reusing valuable insights and datasets is equally limiting on usage.

To unlock the potential of this information, it needs to be accessible, fully searchable, easy to understand, and then simple to repurpose.

Avoid the bottleneck

Previously, business intelligence was underused because – as described above – even simple searches could take hours.

Thankfully, those days can be a thing of the past. Good quality research tech, more specifically, good quality content delivery software, now means users can find and reuse information in minutes.

Using a high-spec content platform could help in-house research teams prepare and share reports more easily and, consequently, become strong advocates for those publishers who can provide their research through a system of this kind.

With a high-spec content platform, end users are empowered with rich information. Ease of accessibility and use also means end users will use the technology repeatedly and more widely – all of which helps alleviate another live issue that in-house research teams deal with… the bottleneck.

When information is stored on a shared drive that, as we have previously described, is hard-to-navigate, it creates a knock-on problem. To get at this information, the default approach is to go through the in-house research team and ask them to search out that information and send it over directly.

Now, these teams are often small, and overworked, so when a request for information comes in from another part of the business, provision of this service takes time. This is frustrating for the person who made the request and does little to encourage them to seek further information.

Using a high-spec content platform could help in-house research teams prepare and share reports more easily and, consequently, become strong advocates for those publishers who can provide their research through a system of this kind.

Self-service

If reports and data are buried in unsearchable shared drives, and those seeking information in a business are forced to harass an overworked in-house research team – and then wait for their information, this is a dangerous situation for the authors of the research.

If your clients can’t see the true value of what you produce, they will start to question why they are paying for it, particularly given the amount of free, albeit lesser quality, information available via a Google search. If, however, you empower your clients with self-service technology, where the search experience is crafted to suit their particular needs, then the value the pay for access to your portfolio can easily be maximised.

In-house research teams should be available to produce reports, collate an intimate understanding of the information they have at hand, and act as gatekeepers to all business intelligence, guiding colleagues with their expert knowledge when departments within their organisation need specialist help.

They can only do this if they are freed of the burden of supplying information. For that to happen, their colleagues must be able to search, access, and use research information for themselves.

They need a high-quality content platform that allows them to perform all these tasks in minutes, not days – and they need this platform to be an enabling tool, not something that adds another layer of difficultly or ‘process’ to the busy workday.

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How digital publishing technology helps research and analysis firms stay relevant

A smart content platform will not only help you understand content use and customer behavior, it will also allow you to make quick edits and updates without necessitating wholesale changes

Picture the scenario: you’ve just spent six months pulling together all the information for your latest business intelligence report then, when it’s finished, the printed copies sit gathering dust and the PDF version gets emailed to those who stumble across it – but that’s it, no further info on who reads it, or what they think.

A typical customer of a business information publisher has an expectation that reports, data, and other information will be made available digitally – but as our scenario suggests, it can be an area in which some firms struggle.

Research and analysis firms are not software companies, and for every publisher that gets their digital offering right, there are many that, for one reason or another, are missing opportunities to enhance their user experience and widen their customer base.

Word to PDF, then what?

Many research and analysis businesses still author reports in Word, convert into PDFs, and distribute whole documents either as a download or over email.

This linear process is simple and low-cost, but it has a number of fundamental limitations:

  • How do you know who reads the report? If anyone? Or how many people it eventually goes to?
  • Does the customer really want to read the whole report? Or just certain sections?
  • How do you know which sections are of interest and use? And which are not?
  • Without this information, how do you market accurately in the future?
  • Without this information, how do you know where to focus your research in future?
  • Even with this info, how do you edit reports, in a cost and time-effective way, to keep them relevant?
  • If your business is one-off sales to a single customer, how do you retain them beyond that sale?

Adopting publishing technology

At Publish Interactive, we’ve been helping research and analysis firms make sense of digital publishing for the last 12 years. Over that time, it has become apparent that all the issues they face boil down to two major pain points: how to compile content in compelling ways and how to keep content relevant.

The good news is that technology can easily help a business overcome these pain points.

Put customers in control

Your customer might not want a whole report. They might not even want you to compile the information for them. And what if they need to glean information from several sources and then compile this into a report of their own?

Using a linear approach, sending them a whole document as a PDF, will make their task time-consuming, costly, and energy-sapping.

And they won’t thank you for that.

But if you were to provide them access to a website where they could search every report you’ve ever produced, clip relevant sections from multiple sources, then export these into their own report in a matter of minutes, not only will you be saving them time and effort, you’ll be helping them to work smarter and improve the quality of their own output with timely and relevant information.

And they’ll love you for that!

Smarter authoring

Allowing users to slice and dice your content in a manner that suits them is a great way to stay relevant and useful for your customers. But not only that; providing this kind of access helps free up the end-users’ time to do other tasks and engage more deeply with content; it can also help tell you exactly what they’re interested in as every search and piece of content accessed is logged.

By monitoring customer behaviour and content usage, firms can use this information to serve customers better:

  • How about feeding this info into the decision-making on what topics to focus on and which to ignore?
  • What about using it to inform the decision-making on when to update reports with new information?
  • What about serving up tailored content suggestions to users based on their previous choices?

A smart content platform will not only help you understand content use and customer behaviour, it will also allow you to make quick edits and updates without necessitating wholesale changes; therefore, freeing up your time for other tasks and helping to breathe new life into older content.

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