CQ Press has built a wealthy archive of Congressional staff directories, which line the bookshelves of its customers. The publisher of government-related products saw an opportunity to turn those dusty print directories into a rich digital database.
The result was the subscription-based First Street
database, which officially launched this week after a multimillion-dollar investment and two years of development. The database comprises all of CQ Press' information about Congressional staffers since 1993 and layers on additional data points from government sources.
“A lightbulb kind of went off that said 'wait a minute,' we have a tremendous asset here,” said Steve Stesney, product manager of First Street. “With the unique asset CQ press has — and that is the work histories of the directories — you can then pile on top of that all of this amazing government data that really tells the story of who these people are.”
The result is a platform relating congressional, government and lobbying data. Users can even visually map the data using a tool called the Coalition Builder.
Digitizing a database
There's a reason every publisher isn't launching a database like this: It's expensive and it's really difficult to do, Stesney said.
CQ Press developed the product completely in-house, based on an SQL
database platform. Developers used Flash
to create the visualization tool.
Sifting through the data required both computer power and manpower. Millions of data records were merged to create work histories, requiring editorial expertise to make sense of it. At times they had up to 25 or 30 “disambiguators” or data analysts going through rows of data and making sense of the work histories, Stesney said.
So computers can't do everything? “They can't do everything, but they can do a lot,” he said.
Monetizing a database
As publishers look for new digital revenue generators, data is golden. U.S. News & World Report
, for instance, makes money with its decades of data about colleges.
CQ Press will sell First Street to subscribers looking for public policy intelligence, such as law firms, lobbyists and policymakers. Annual subscription prices are tiered based on the number of users in an organization (average annual fees start at $3,750).
Stesney envisions future opportunities to monetize through creating an API
and licensing content to anyone who isn't creating a competing product.
“The database is a tremendous value,” he said.