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Questia in the Houston Chronicle

Of possible interest.


Copyright 2001 The Houston Chronicle: August 18, 2001, Saturday 3 STAR

Questia tries new approach in marketing; School year's start crucial to
buoy online library service


QUESTIA Media will be accompanying millions of high school and college
students back to school in the coming weeks with a full complement of TV
ads, direct mailers and Internet marketing.

While the start of the school coincides with the launch of many ad
campaigns, this season is crucial for the Houston-based online library and
research service. A slow start after its January launch, the layoff of
half of the company's staff and dwindling cash reserves mean attracting
and keeping paying subscribers is more important than ever.

Sources familiar with the company say it has secured additional funding
beyond the $ 135 million raised through last year, but moving beyond
venture funding to self-sustainment is a must to support a
consumer-oriented business.

Questia's fall marketing efforts include rolling out TV ads on four cable
channels, launching online deals with America Online, Britannica.com and
Princeton Review and sending mailings to more than 7 million households to
drive subscribers to its monthly service. The TV spots, to run on MTV,
VH1, Comedy Central and E!, will be essentially the same as those that ran
during last spring's National Collegiate Athletic Association Men's
Basketball Tournament. Featuring the "Sweaty Guy," a heavily perspiring
college student facing a pending paper deadline, the spots are to start
Aug. 27.

Video news releases - prepackaged back-to-school spots produced by the
company featuring interviews with Questia Chief Executive Troy Williams,
students using Questia and others - will be sent to television news
stations via satellite shortly.

The company is also making a librarian available to TV shows to talk about
back-to-school preparations, which will naturally include a suggested
subscription to Questia.

The online deals start with Internet giant America Online. Questia is
sponsoring portions of AOL's Research & Learn Channel and the AOL
Parenting areas of Homework Help and Back to School, putting Questia ads
and links in front of many of the 30 million AOL subscribers.  Questia
will also offer AOL subscribers a free one-month trial to its service.

Questia has a deal with Princeton Review, the test preparation company,
where signing up with Questia is included on a list of the top 20 ways to
prepare for the new school year.

The deal with the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica gives users
doing a search on the site the option of viewing results from the same
search on Questia. Britannica.com users can also subscribe to Questia for
the fall semester at a reduced rate, said Christine Farrier, a Questia
marketing manager. A portion of the fee for new subscribers signed up
through that channel will go to Britannica.com.

"We're completely integrated into Britannica.com," Farrier said. "It adds
credibility to us to be linked with a name like Britannica, while we lend
to them access to our online collection."

Questia's marketing is expanding to reach out to high school students and
their parents this fall, a move that the company studied very quietly last
spring, said Vice President of Marketing Kathleen Clarke.

"We got good results from high school students in the spring semester and
determined if we actively marketed to them, we could increase our
results," she said.

A subscription flier will be included in a package mailed to more than 7.1
million households with high-school-age children by the U.S. Department of
Education, while the company plans to do a follow-up mailing of its own to
a subset of that group.

Clarke said the high school audience accounts for about one-third of its
fall marketing efforts.

Since launching last January, the company has made changes, large and
small, to its marketing plan.

The first customers targeted were students at smaller colleges,
particularly community colleges and two-year schools. They assumed older
students would be more likely to identify the time- saving value of
Questia's research tools. Dozens of employees hit campuses around the
country to hand out information and free subscriptions to the site.

Later the company shifted focus to a smaller number of large campuses,
offering free subscriptions to thousands of faculty and staff at schools
in the NCAA basketball finals.

It also made changes to what was previously a strict plan of only
marketing directly to students and their parents. Questia now offers the
ability to buy bulk subscriptions for students to select schools.

Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., and Lourdes College in Sylvania, Ohio,
have agreed to a deal that will cover the subscription fee for several
hundred of their students taking certain classes this fall. Duke
University is trying to convince Questia to let it buy something like a
site license, which would give broader access to the service to its

The company dropped its first mascot, the quirky Enlightenment-era
character called the "Question Marquis," in favor of the more emotive
"Sweaty Guy." Student's didn't connect with the Marquis, who looked
somewhat like the Captain Morgan's Rum character, with online research and
paper writing.

Questia's efforts to simplify its message went so far as to cross a line
it was careful to avoid in the past.

The phrase "The Online Library" now sits prominently on the main Web page,
a phrase the company didn't use in the past for fear of alienating the
librarian community, which might feel threatened by the profit motive of
the service.

The latest version of the Questia Web Interface launched this week takes
another step in the direction of simplicity. The site has been divided
into three main areas - search, read, and work - and lets subscribers
create a personal bookshelf for storing and retrieving favorite books. A
copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense is available for free to let visitors
test out the research and note-taking tools.

The company's library, which has slowed its growth from a breakneck pace
last winter, expanded from 35,000 books to about 60,000 items, including
20,000 journal articles.

While Questia competitor NetLibrary has been on the market for more than a
year, a slower- moving competitor, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Ebrary, has
launched a beta test of its service in recent weeks.

The Ebrary service, Ebrarian 1.0, will let users scour business and
economics titles online for free but charges for printing out pages of the
books and articles, much like photocopying articles.

Questia's subscription model has picked up a bit of backing from research
firm Forrester Research. A study of 100 students at the University of
Missouri School of Journalism indicates that students are much more likely
to pay for online access to academic data and information, such as
encyclopedia articles, than for music files or video files.

"For educational content, the students actually perceived the highest
quality to be that which was the highest price," said Ekaterina Walsh, a
senior analyst with Forrester.

. . .