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Web site offers business book summaries

With the launch of his new company, MeansBusiness.com, David Wilcox wants to enable Web surfers to quickly and easily find summaries of recently published books on business subjects.

David Wilcox means business.

With the launch this week of his new company, MeansBusiness.com, Wilcox wants to make it easier for Web surfers to find concepts and summaries of recently published books on subjects like management, finance and marketing.

Boston, Mass.-based MeansBusiness has compiled in one database more than 12,000 ideas, theories and methodologies from hundreds of books by industry experts. These concepts are selected, chapter by chapter, in three- to seven-paragraph excerpts quoted in the authors' own words.

For a one-year subscription of $900, or a single-visit fee of $15, users log on to the company's Web site, create an account and browse through the database using a data mining application which leads them to concepts and ideas based on business management--the first industry the company has decided to target. Plans are in the works for building similar services for career decision management.

Wilcox sees the new service as a way for businesspeople to find the information they need more quickly than slogging through a 350-page volume or scouring a pile of books at the local bookstore.

Wilcox devised the company's business plan while researching material for a book he was writing. "I thought we could cull all this information and pull it on to the desktop."

A staff of business editors and writers selects and categorizes leading books and then inputs the conceptual information, like ideas, concepts, principals, theories and methodologies, into the MeansBusiness database.

"There are companies bringing books to digital, but we are different because we are providing a front end to the concepts within the books," he explained.

When a user inserts a query, a preview screen pops up providing a one-line explanation of a book's concept and the length of the extract. For more details, users pay $8 to $15 for a collection of eight or more extracts from several books about a single business concept.

If the user wants to buy any of the books from which the extracts are drawn, the Web site directs the user to an online retailer who sells the book.

Once the concepts and summaries are gleaned by Wilcox's staff, the authors and their publishers review them before they are put in the database.

Analysts said Wilcox's concept is interesting, but it is unclear whether his business model will succeed.

"I think it is an intriguing notion. It's sufficiently different [from] anything out there, so it's hard to pigeonhole it or compare it to anything else," said Will Zachman, CEO of Canopus Research. "It is difficult to understand where the demand will come from for something like this, but it is one of the more interesting dot coms out there."

Zachman said he could see this type of service being useful to high-end consulting outfits for including in their reports and presentations, or possibly to researchers, "but it is hard to figure out where the market is. I guess we'll see in a year."

Wilcox is hoping a string of partnerships with publishers of conceptual material will boost his company's profile. The company's publishing partners include Bloomberg Press, Harper-Collins, Harvard Business School Press, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill and Oxford University Press. All of the publishers and authors share in a revenue pool created by MeansBusiness.

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