AP, like News Corp press and some others, have been bitching about news aggregators for years. They’re seen as “stealing” news and undermining the bottom line of these previously exclusive sources. There’s a few things wrong with this position.
Bloomberg's Business Week explains the issues:
The Associated Press newswire service has just launched a “news registry” and licensing service it calls NewsRight, together with a group of traditional media chains and outlets such as Hearst Newspapers and the New York Times The AP says the new entity.. is primarily intended to help members track, then license, their content to websites and news services.
So far so good- licensing content and tracking usage, perfectly normal. It’s the object of this approach which is under scrutiny. Bloomberg again:
The AP first started talking about a news registry as far back as 2008. It was clear then that its main purpose would be to crack down on anyone using even small portions of the company’s content. …Meanwhile, the AP continued to threaten other websites over the use of its content and tried to convince sites to pay exorbitant fees for even small amounts of text or the use of an AP headline.
This is where AP’s problems start. There’s a business model issue here, as there is with all the traditional news media:
AP’s arch rival Reuters makes its news available online. Reuters has also embraced Twitter, the canary in the mine for old style reportage. The Bloomberg article theorizes that AP and others are trying to retain their old monopolies, but it may also be that their business model simply doesn’t know how to function in the new information environment.
Google has already moved on quietly but effectively from the “aggregator” insult (all news media are by definition aggregators, and some aggregate more PR than news) by setting up a service of its own, and the Google service is free. A site called Poynter.org has a revealing example of Google not only beating AP, but its news service being preferred in relation to the Iowa GOP caucus results.
The question is whether people will pay for news they can get for free elsewhere from multiple sources. AP and the others, including my much loved favourite read, The New York Times, may be barking at lightning here, making noises against sheer power. There are some potentially deadly configurations of existing online information media which could easily bury any old-style news media model.
Imagine a simple web page, including feeds from:
Google News services
You could set up a page like that in about 5 minutes. It would contain more hard news than you’d get in a week on any single site. All you need are the links, and maybe a simple blog. That’d be a real aggregator, and it wouldn’t infringe anyone’s rights at all. Stick a logo on it, add some Adsense ads, and you’d make money out of it, too.
From the business perspective- What’s known for sure is that going against Google’s very consistent approach to providing free services in strategic areas simply doesn’t work. Google could, if it wanted, set up a monster news site with a lot more bells and whistles and classifier links than it has now. When it comes to pushing and shoving, size matters, and AP is a relative dwarf.
There’s a somewhat neglected side to AP’s position, which ironically AP itself rarely mentions- AP’s quality. “AP style” is famous in journalism, and it’s required reading for most US journalists. AP news is the real deal. It’s literally a role model for top class journalism and news reporting. It'd be a terrible shame if this high value news source self-destructed simply by going into denial about a new media environment.
For a long time now, I’ve been saying that the US hit the wall when the lawyers and accountants took over management. I hope this isn’t another case of that, because the world would be a poorer place without AP. My friendly advice to AP is to look at other options, find new revenue streams and don’t try to take on the world head on. It can’t work.
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