Advance warning of gales and turbulence at the bottom of this garden: readers with enhanced sensitivity should tune out and under 18s should go to bed NOW.

Doncaster. Barnsley. Lynn (where?) All wonderful townships in the UK.  Barnsley once had coalmines, and gritty Yorkshiremen who won’t pay ‘owt for nowt come from there. Doncaster has a race track and a motorway junction. Lynn is … in Kent ?  Or is it East Lynn?  See my problem?  When something happens in these places it has to be big to get national coverage in the UK.  Otherwise, these are small places with small local newspapers …

Today reports that the local newspaper websites from these three very respectable places (where is Lynn – perhaps it’s a girl?) will get paywalls in Johnston Press’s new Murdoch-inspired “make them pay and snub Google” policy.  Yes, Johnston Press, whose last CEO walked out of Fish4 (then the UK’s co-operative regional press classified advertising service online) on no less than three occasions when he bought news groups who had shares.  Johnston Press, which denied the existence of a web threat until the onset of the current recession.  Johnston Press, which has stared fixedly at annual losses in circulation for a decade without making a major strategic move to do anything about it, and which went over a precipice of advertising decline in the last two years.  Yes, that Johnston Press, whose then CEO , in a conference at no less a place than the Worshipful Company of Stationers a few years ago, when I asked from the floor why so few people under 30 read their newspapers, and those numbers were declining, said with all the silky charm of a newsman ” well, history shows they always come back when they get older”.

Grrrrah!  That feels better.  History shows that revolutions do take place, and sadly some great people, including the present CEO of Johnston, will get hurt by it.  The people of Barnsley will use Google to find the BBC local radio news, the paywall will eventually kill the web presence in Doncaster, the key people at Johnston will find other media activities, and the shareholders, who have been as careful about voicing criticism as investors in Britain’s banks, will wonder where their investment went.

And it is all so unnecessary.  I have been researching community and social media advertising environments this week.  It is clear to me that we were quite right at Fish4, where I was chairman in the mid-1990s, when we said “build national, sell local via community web presence”.  So the people of Doncaster will, if events run as I fear, lose their local newspaper because a lot of stubborn managers cannot distinguish between users’ needs and format of delivery.  Stick to the first, be agnostic on the second – this is the clear lesson of history.  As they say in Yorkshire, someone who ignores that is a “daft ha’porth”.

Take one last look before they go behind a paywall and into the DarkNet:, and  £5 for a three month subscription!

Have a quick look at what is happening in the oil information markets.  Major player Platts (a part of McGraw-Hill’s information division) produces the pricing data which underlies the valuation of West Texas Intermediate as traded on Nymex (the New York Mercantile Exchange).  In turn, this index is used by the Saudis as their benchmark in pricing their crude oil exported by Aramco.

“Is” became “was” this month. From January 2010, the new measure of oil pricing for the Saudis will be the Argus Sour Crude Index, produced by a UK player that is a comparative minnow to McGraw’s Platts.  Neither company is responsible directly for the change, which has happened because West Texas prices began to veer away from Brent Crude prices for technical reasons that nobody appears to understand or admit.  But one up for the little guy, and a real revenue stream in providing access to the underlying pricing data.

Then a month elapses. Platts announces a new index, to cover oil production from the East Siberian fields.  ESPO pricing is expected to be an exciting new prospect in oil price indexation, alongside Platts flagship indices, Platts Dubai and Platts Dated Brent.  All part of the cut and thrust of competition in the energy sector, one of the most vibrant B2B information sectors of all (

So why I am burdening you with all this unnecessary information?  Simply as a way of underlining, if needs be, that like accreditation in training, index publishing is becoming an interesting value phenomenon.  It creates lock-in around which workflow activities and value-add analytics can be built.  It gives brand focus and recognition.  It provides contract opportunities to supply and maintain service points on client intranets. In truth, it is sexier than it sounds.

But it is not without risk.  As this story shows, you can lose an index and you can invent a new one where none existed before.  Those who have them are inherently more valuable than those who do not.  And the principle of indexation spreads far and wide across B2B information; if you can benchmark pricing you are in a position of strength.  So why did the FT sell out its ownership of the FTSE , and why is Murdoch doing the same with the Dow?  Answers on a postcard: entries including the words “death wish” will not qualify, as being too obvious.

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