There's a clear need for such research. Of the 3,200 Nasdaq-listed stocks, about 35% have no research coverage. Moreover, about 50% have only one or two research analysts.
The lack of coverage has a variety of causes, most of them budgetary, and small- and mid-cap companies suffer because of it, since it typically reduces their liquidity and makes it more difficult to offer incentives like stock options to employees, raise capital, and buy other companies.
To deal with these problems, more and more public companies have engaged in paid research. But that's far from an ideal solution. Would the research firm put a "sell" recommendation on a company from which it gets money? Not likely.
IRN offers a different approach, in which the company pays IRN rather than a third-party research firm. Based on rigorous standards and procedures, IRN will select a group of independent research firms that will do the work. Those firms have yet to be revealed, but the Nasdaq conference call indicated that they will be branded names.
These independent firms will have complete autonomy to make recommendations. They will also receive ratings based on the accuracy of their research.
To get this coverage, a company must pay IRN $100,000 per year for a three-year period. That means a company doesn't have the option to discontinue the service if it gets a negative report before the three years is up.
A company will be assigned at least three analysts. Companies will also have access to broad distribution, which could help increase liquidity and decrease volatility in lightly traded issues. And, of course, the fringe benefit is that companies can boast that their research bears the stamp of the trusted Nasdaq and Reuters brands.
IRN is scheduled to launch in a few months. There are probably some kinks yet to be worked out, but the service looks like a winner: Companies get exposure based on standards, and investors get more transparency without the taint of paid research.
Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares mentioned in this article.