For more than one hundred years, companies like Marquis Who’s Who have built a strong business based largely on vanity publishing. The concept is fairly simple. Put someone’s name, bio and profile into a directory, position it as the “who’s who” of an industry, market or country, then sell copies back to the individuals listed. That worked fine in the past. However, as printed directories fade away, what’s the role of vanity publishing on the web?
One company that may have figured it out is Ziggs.
Ziggs has repositioned vanity publishing for the web. Rather than positioning it around prestige a la “who’s who”, Ziggs has shifted the focus to managing your image on the Internet. Their basic premise is that if you are a professional, people will search for you on the web. Rather than having them land on some random page that mentions you, you’ll want them to find your information on a page that you control. In essence, Ziggs’ pitch is that they enable you to control your personal branding.
Ziggs basic package allows you to create a professional profile including your name, a narrative bio, a chronological bio (“background”), a pseudo interview, links to your personal or business pages and a contact page. Ziggs will assign you an internal contact address that can be redirected to your email, so your email address isn’t exposed.
For $5 per month, Ziggs will add premium options, most notably, Search Engine Marketing (“SEM”). Ziggs SEM will bid on your name on the major (GYM) search engines, so that your Ziggs profile will have prominent positioning any time someone searches your name. Of course, when your name is Barry Graubart, the SEM isn’t needed, but for more common names it might be worthwhile. Ziggs also emails you whenever a user clicks on your profile, providing the search terms, date, time and location of the user.
For end-users, Ziggs is a fairly powerful and compelling way to search for individuals. Whether trying to locate a specific person using name search, or to find sales prospects by geographic location and job title, Ziggs is a powerful tool. I find it most useful when trying to gain background information prior to meeting with a new prospect, vendor or employment candidate. Recently, Ziggs added the capability to add “Search Ziggs” to the Google Toolbar, which should help drive more search traffic to them.
From a database publishing perspective, Ziggs has effectively shifted the editorial burden to its listees. There is no manual review process for the information on Ziggs. Users update their information and it is presented “as-is”. That allows Ziggs to have more than 3 million profiles today, despite having only 12 full-time and a half-dozen part time employees. While I expect that the number of users paying for profiles remains modest, if Ziggs can continue to build traffic, they will have various ways to augment their premium listing revenue, via advertising, sponsorship and database licensing. With low costs and only $7.5M in financing to date, profitability should not be far off.
The people search market will continue to grow, with uses as varied as sales prospecting and recruitment to performing due diligence for dating. Ziggs is well-positioned to field a significant portion of that traffic. At the same time, changing dynamics in the workplace mean that personal branding and positioning will become more critical for professionals in the future, strengthening Ziggs' core message.
Meanwhile, the future for Marquis and other traditional vanity publishers is murky at best.