With investment firms cutting costs and portfolio managers combating a barrage of information, financial research shops around the globe are looking for new ways to keep their product relevant. From a report: A raft of startups have launched to support that effort, offering tools that can use Google search data to get an edge on retail sales, deploy drones to examine oil supplies or allow investors to rank analysts and bid on their reports, like a Netflix or eBay of research. Whether these innovations will lead to smarter investments, or be used widely enough to prop up research budgets, is yet to be seen. But the startups are forming alliances with banks, brokerages and investors by the dozen. People who use and sell the tools say the trend is changing how research is financed, distributed and consumed for the first time in decades. "We are coming up on a very different age for equity research," said Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research. Investors now see research as a product that must stand on its own rather than a freebie offered as part of a broader relationship with an investment bank, Sokolin said. Technology can improve the quality and distribution of research, he said. [...] Perhaps most importantly, investors say they are sick of their inboxes piling up with run-of-the-mill reports each day. At a time when people share snippets of information through WhatsApp and Slack and a tweet can move a stock in seconds, sharing loads of PDF files through email is not only passe, but makes it hard to know what is worth reading, industry sources said.