Yahoo! Search Subscriptions was announced today, a small step forward on the path towards integrating web search results with results from the “deep” or “invisible” web.  John Blossom and John Battelle provide some analysis.  Battelle recommends that Yahoo! “act as a central clearinghouse for transactions and subscription fulfillment/services.”  He goes further saying:

“In essence, publishers are terrified that if they allow their content into search engines, they’ll never get paid for it, and they’ll lose the relationship with the customer to boot. The database aggregators like LexisNexis, in particular, are wary of search. But if I could find LexisNexis articles in a Yahoo search, and easily click through and read them for a small fee (or a Rhapsody like option that lets me buy an unlimited sub for say $10 a month), why, I’d do it all day long. But don’t ask me to log in to LexisNexis each time. Let Yahoo handle that. And don’t make me pay $5 for each article. I’ll never do it.”

This is simplistic and frankly unrealistic.  First, not all the content on LexisNexis (and Dialog, Factiva, Alacra etc.) is the aggregators’ to price in this fashion.  It’s silly to think that  $10 per month would cover current revenue via an increase in subscribers. Secondly, although a news story might be a commodity item, there’s plenty of other more valuable content in these databases and users would still need to contract with someone other than Yahoo! to purchase it.  Finally, there’s the user experience and packaging, which is a point of competition among the aggregators that Yahoo! would find difficult to match.

Not that Yahoo! Search Subscriptions isn’t a good thing.  For certain users it improves the search experience and for the premium content participants, their results stay in front of their users in a more persistent fashion.  But if publishers can’t monetize the traffic (that’s what Yahoo! does) and they degrade their ability to monetize the content they’re not left with very much.  They need to be wary.  John Blossom says “…the real shoe dropping to listen for will be (as Battelle suggests) when the access to subscription content via Web search engines, regardless of its source, becomes as transparent as access to general web content.”  I think we have a ways to go before we hear that thud.