Seeking Alpha recently announced that its Investor Marketplace has eclipsed $10 mln in annual revenue from the provision of independent research subscriptions to investors. This makes Seeking Alpha one of the most successful third-party research aggregators currently in business.
Seeking Alpha Breaks $10 mln
According to Seeking Alpha, its Investor Marketplace, which was launched four years ago, is now generating $10 mln in annual revenue from the provision of independent equity research to investors. This means that the 170 providers who publish on this platform are taking home $7.5 mln in fees. A few of the notable facts about this success:
- There are 15,000 subscribers using SA’s Investor Marketplace who have more than 21,000 subscriptions (many subscribers have multiple memberships). 80% of these subscribers have annual memberships.
- One of the providers on the platform (Rida Morwa’s High Dividend Opportunities) has eclipsed $1.0 mln in annual revenue.
- 10 research providers on the Marketplace are earning more than $250,000/year in gross recurring revenue.
- Another 10 earn more than $100,000/year.
- 20 more earn more than $48,000 a year.
- 36 more earn at least $12,000/year.
Seeking Alpha plans to continue investing in its Marketplace in 2020 with a focus on making services more user friendly, adding features, upgrading the mobile experience and selling subscriptions on their apps, improving their ability to help users discover the right Marketplace services, and onboarding more top-notch authors.
Research Aggregation Marketplace
The success experienced by Seeking Alpha has not been seen by many of its peers. Due to the prospect of MiFID II, 15 firms sprung up over the years believing that the mandated unbundling of research from commissions would create a need for a new way to support finding and buying investment research independent from execution services.
Based on our research, we have identified thirteen (13) independent research aggregators who are currently in business (listed below). This is in addition to the large market data vendors Bloomberg, Refinitiv, FactSet, and S&P Global who also provide research aggregation.
- Seeking Alpha
- RSRCHXchange (Liquidnet)
- Visible Alpha
- Speevr (Fixed Income)
- Substantive Research (Macro)
- Electronic Research Interchange (ERIC)
- Research Tree
Despite the boost provided by MiFID II, most of the independent research aggregators listed above have struggled to gain significant commercial traction. In fact, most research providers we have spoken with have expressed disappointment in the lack of new business they have been able to obtain via most of these platforms.
Consequently one of the early independent aggregators, AIREX, which was founded in 2012 shuttered in 2017 after failing to attract many paying research users. Feedstock which was founded in 2015 with the original intent to be a research distribution platform, pivoted to focus on becoming a research productivity/audit tool instead.
The news about Seeking Alpha reaching $10 mln in research distribution revenue is an encouragement as at least one of the 13 independent research aggregators has been able to experience reasonable commercial success. When evaluating the performance of Seeking Alpha’s Investor Marketplace, we see that 41 of the providers (24% of the total number of vendors) are currently generating 55% of the revenue. The remaining 129 providers are taking in an average of $35,000 in revenue per year.
What is particularly interesting is to ask why Seeking Alpha has been successful while the other twelve platforms have not been? We can think of two reasons. First, Seeking Alpha has built its entire business around attracting potential research buyers to their site. For years, Seeking Alpha gave away free content to both professional and retail investors, supporting their content through advertising. Currently Seeking Alpha attracts more than 15 million unique visitors to their site generating 40 mln visits per month. In the past few years Seeking Alpha has commercialized this audience by selling them value-added research. They used their free content to create an engine to market subscription services.
The second reason is that Seeking Alpha has not restricted their marketplace to institutional investors like many of the 12 platforms listed above. A large portion of Seeking Alpha’s readership is retail investors looking for well thought out investment ideas. For many years, retail investors have been faced with the fact that they needed to pay for high quality independent research if they wanted it. Unfortunately, most institutional investors have only recently been forced to pay hard dollars for research. Paying cash for third-party research has not yet become the norm for many of them. Consequently, Seeking Alpha can meet the needs of all investors on their platform. One group may not want to pay for research, and they can get access to Seeking Alpha’s free content. However, the other group may feel comfortable paying for high quality value-added research. It is this group that Seeking Alpha has been marketing the providers on their Investor Marketplace to.
The other twelve research aggregators have spent much of their effort in building out their platforms, adding features, and recruiting content providers. They have been operating on a “field of dreams” model – build it and they will come. These platforms have not really focused on building out the second side of any marketplace – attracting customers. Unfortunately, research suppliers are unlikely to want to continue supplying their research to these platforms if they are unable to generate much new business from them. This is the conundrum facing many of these players – an issue that Seeking Alpha has seemed to have conquered.