GuruNet Turns to Ad-supported Model

Reference-specific search engine GuruNet has abandoned its subscription model to pursue an ad-supported one.

Ads will appear alongside the reference answers on results pages. Initially, all ads will be text ads, provided by a few of the “usual suspects” among contextual text ad providers, according to GuruNet spokesman Jay Bailey. Final details of contracts were still being worked out, he said. Contextual ad players include Google, Yahoo’s Overture and Kanoodle.

“Because people who use GuruNet are in the mode of reading for information, we want to keep the ads as unobtrusive, contextual, and useful as possible,” Bailey said.

GuruNet has experimented with several licensing models for its software and Web site combination over its history. Initially, it signed up hundreds of thousands of free subscribers, many of which still hold a license and use GuruNet. At one point, the company decided to pursue the enterprise market, giving away licenses as a lead generator. GuruNet later tried to woo consumer subscribers with a one-time fee for a lifetime license, but ran into accounting problems with the model. The company finally settled on a yearly subscription fee set at $30, but is now abandoning that.

Bailey said it’s difficult to charge a subscription fee when so much reference information is available for free on other sites, though he points out that GuruNet adds value with its software and its aggregation of sources. He declined to reveal the number of paying subscribers, citing the complexity of its multiple licensing models. He only said there were “hundreds of thousands” of subscribers in total.

“We’ve had a successful subscriber base, but it was not growing rapidly enough,” he said.

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