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Top 10 Free Online Dictionaries – Picture of the Market, Part 1 August 30, 2008

Posted by Vincent Lannoy in Marketing.
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Hello everyone. Happy to be here, writing about what matters to us: dictionary editing and publishing. In particular, I want to drive this “marketing” section of Lexiconverse onto the digital paths of online dictionary marketing. Challenging, isn’t it?!

A logical starting point is to paint a picture, in this first post, of the current state of marketing in this area: who are the active players in online dictionary publishing, what are they doing and how successful are they?

Picture of the Market

It’s simple to answer these questions. Let’s start by typing “english dictionary” into Google to identify players and then compare traffic with available tools. Here are our search results:

Screenshot excerpted from Google.com result list

Google.com Result List for "english dictionary". Click to launch the query

Now, take this list, extend it and play with the marvellous recently released Google AdPlanner to flesh out a rough traffic ranking:

Top 10 Free Online Dictionaries in Terms of Traffic and Trend - Unique Visitors

Top 10 Free Online Dictionaries in Terms of Traffic and Trend - Unique Visitors

In this chart, I wanted to stress the trend of visits over 2008 to balance static traffic figures. The trend is my personal interpretation of the graphs provided by Google Trends. Important note: handle this data with caution. These figures give a fairly reliable idea of the hierarchy, however, they should not be taken as a definitive analysis of the actual traffic. Always consider round values and big volumes and use these values as an index only.

To compare like with like, consider thefreedictionary.com (or answers.com) and dictionary.cambridge.org which all offer comparable resources. The ratio between them can be averaged out to 10. The former is driving 10 times more unique visitors than the latter.
Big? Let’s compare this with the encyclopedia market.

From a study I made earlier this year, based on Alexa.com pageviews data, I estimated that the English content of Wikipedia is driving approximately 260 times more traffic than britannica.com; French Wikipedia is driving 200 times more traffic than Universalis.fr and German Wikipedia 150 times more traffic than brockhaus.de.

Not such a big gap for dictionaries afterall. And I am not referring here to the news market which is a seperate issue, and far more varied and fragmented.

Conclusion 1:
The market is rather homogeneous in terms of traffic, regardless of the history of the various websites. There are leaders but they don’t have squashed the market. Having said this, trends must be considered carefully: when global Internet traffic is growing, only a few actors are capable of taking the right path.

Who are the Content Owners?

Content Owners. Who is a pure player, who is an established publisher?

Content Owners. Who is a pure player, who is an established publisher? Click to open a bit larger

This table has been propagated with information available on the individual websites and it is focused on the dictionary content. It is not a comprehensive reference but a brief outline of key players and copyright owners.

What is clear is that most of the key players are content packagers and distributors. To simplify the schema, according to the two tables I have built here, I would say that some key players are rather more web and marketing experts than content experts.

Conclusion 2:
Key players are driving the market thanks to their marketing and web design skills. Established publishers (with the exception of Merriam-Webster and Leo) are steps behind in terms of traffic when they are the copyright owners. Keep in mind that these key players are the ones best indexed in search engines. Just try queries like “car definition”, “advise definition”, etc in Google and look at the first result pages: the rankings reflect the top of the traffic chart.

Next Steps

Having examined the difference between key players and established publishers in terms of content and traffic, I will address the following in coming posts:

  • A great majority of the actors identified here develop a free business model. Why free? How do they commercialize the content with advertising? How do they make money?
  • What key to success elements can we easily highlight: content, features, communication, search engine optimization?

Comments About the Tools Used Here

Two questions for readers and bloggers:

  • Where does the Google AdPlanner data comes from? According to Google, data comes from various sources intermingled by Google, including searches, opt-in Analytics and third-party data. See details in Google Support,
  • Why are figures from Google AdPlanner and Google Trends not matching? For example, if you compare leo.org, merriam-webster.com and wordreference.com in Trends and AdPlanner, you don’t have the same hierarchy. AdPlanner is in a setup phase, using many more sources (including third party ones) than Trends. However, Google is allocating a lot of resources and care to promote AdPlanner. For the moment, traffic figures are not fully reliable, especially for websites with lower traffic. Use them carefully.

Lexicography: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma August 8, 2008

Posted by idmfrance in Book Publishing, Lexicography.
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If you don’t know what a lexicographer is you are hereby forgiven.

‘Lexicographer’ is a word that really should appear (along with endocrinologist and lepidopterist) in a Dictionary of Important-Sounding Yet Utterly Mysterious Professions.

In short, a lexicographer is one who compiles and/or edits dictionaries. Lexicography is therefore the practice of compiling and editing dictionaries. Stemming from the Greek lexikon (meaning book of words or word book) it first appeared in modern usage in the 17th Century.

The current hardback edition of Dr 'Johnson's Dictionary', edited by David Crystal and published by Penguin UK

The man credited (in Western history at least) with putting lexicography ‘on the map’ is Samuel Johnson. Johnson was a writer and it is hard to know if he was also a genius, a workaholic or simply possessing of an insatiable thirst for knowledge. In any case, his energies eventually manifested in the compilation of his Dictionary of the English language, first published in 1755. His legacy is still in print today (albeit an abridged version called Dr Johnson’s Dictionary) and is famed for its eccentricity. Johnson himself is an intriguing character, as James Boswell so brilliantly details in the highly acclaimed The Life of Samuel Johnson.

Today it is Oxford University Press’s juggernaut, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) that is considered the chief lexicon for the English Language. The complete second edition is 20 volumes in print and presumably many megabytes worth of cyberspace. The history of the dictionary is fascinating and worth delving into. As a starting point, Simon Winchester’s The Surgeon of Crowthorne is an excellent read. The book is based on the true story of W. C Minor: one of the OED’s earliest and most prolific contributors, and a wartime surgeon who eventually ended up in Broadmoor hospital as a psychiatric patient. No more can be said without ruining the many gripping twists in the tale. Read this extract and see what you think.

Nowadays, lexicography occupies a unique position in between the IT industry and traditional book publishing. Lexicographers work with complex systems and databases, edit onscreen, use programming languages like XML, and adapt their work for book and non-book products. That’s pretty progressive stuff for what was once a craft of the book trade. For us dictionary publishing people it is extremely exciting to be part of something that is evolving so rapidly.

To find out more about lexicography post our lexical gurus a comment or question. If you’re in the UK, you can also contact Lexicography Masterclass who run training courses and provide many relevant resources.

Kristen Harrison

Introduction to Marketing July 29, 2008

Posted by idmfrance in Marketing.
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You would be forgiven for wondering why we have committed a whole category of our blog to ‘marketing’. It’s not the most obvious topic in a dictionary publishing blog, but marketing has a truly unique place in modern reference publishing. As technologies evolve (e-books, phones, iPods, CD-Roms) so too do the economic models underpinning the publishing activity. Marketing strategies are having to evolve at a rapid pace in order to keep up.

Once upon a time a publisher would cost their project based entirely on sales of actual books; now they have to be far more creative about revenue and integrate things like online advertising and user subscriptions. This is the point where we call upon our white knight of marketing to ride in and tell us all about how he will march us into the future…

Introduction to Lexicography July 29, 2008

Posted by idmfrance in Dictionary Editing and Publishing, Lexicography.

IDM are lucky enough to work with a number of world-class lexicographers: henceforth known as ‘the gurus’. This is the page where we invite the gurus to contribute anything from random musings and silly words to more practical notes on the technical aspects of lexicography.

Have you got a favorite word? A strange or quirky etymology? Or have you noticed an interesting use or abuse of language in everyday life? Post a comment and see what the gurus have to say about it.

Introduction to Technology July 29, 2008

Posted by idmfrance in Dictionary Editing and Publishing, Technology.
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Unlike many other areas of book publishing, Reference publishing is heavily intertwined with the development and implementation of new technologies. This relationship reflects a new evolution for books, and with this evolution comes a whole new set of challenges.

One of the challenges is in creating processes that can be integrated into the traditional publishing models. It is fair to say that publishers are quite fond of their established methods (write, edit, design, typeset, print) and thus a new approach (multiple authors compile into database, edit (on screen) in specialist software, create DTD, typeset, global changes to database, export in multiple formats, publish in multiple formats) might be somewhat counter-intuitive. Our technology page explores all the facets of the relationship between books, publishing and technology and gives our techy guys a place to lament, share ideas or waste time when they should be programming.

Welcome Note July 28, 2008

Posted by idmfrance in Book Publishing, Lexicography, Marketing, Technology.
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Welcome to Lexiconverse: a literary and technical discussion base for anything related to publishing, editing and producing dictionaries.

Lexiconverse is published by IDM, a Paris-based company specialising in dictionary production systems for reference publishers. Though our head office is in a quiet university district (Champs sur Marne) about 20 mins east of Paris, our daily work has a truly global scope. We have staff and colleagues based all over Europe including London, Edinburgh, Germany and Copenhagen. Our clients, who are primarily digital and book publishers, are equally as prolific and reach as far as the US. This blog is a way of bringing all of these great minds together to share ideas, impart wisdom and debate the more controversial topics.

As a company with a global outlook we wilkommen les posts in muchos lenguaje – but preferably one at a time! If you are an enthusiastic translator, please feel free to translate any of our posts into other languages and submit it as a comment. (We cannot take responsibility for poor translations.)