Last week the AP announced plans to electronically tag their online content so illegal use will be easier to track. The Fair Syndication Consortium, which includes The New York Times and The Washington Post, is trying to get a piece of the ad revenue other sites make off their member's content. But New York Times blogger Saul Hansell questions whether these efforts will work.
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In their quixotic quest to restore profitability, news organizations are turning their focus to those who have — wait, wait —news organizations and profits — hey, Bernie, hit the jingle.
GROUP SINGS: Present and future business models for monetizing the newspaper industry.
BOB GARFIELD: Last week, in an attempt to track down what it deems to be poachers, The Associated Press announced a plan to digitally track its content. Other news organizations meantime have formed a group called the Fair Syndication Consortium to figure out ways to recoup ad revenue earned by aggregators placing ads adjacent to linked content. Saul Hansell, staff writer for The New York Times, has been following this story, and he rejoins us. Saul, welcome to the show. SAUL HANSELL: It’s always great to be here, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, let's start with the AP. It’s said it’s going to be sniffing out AP content all over the Web. How is it going to do that, and then once it finds the stuff, then what?
SAUL HANSELL: The idea is they're going to digitally put a little bit of computer code into all of the AP stories that are syndicated on Yahoo! News and Google News and all the newspaper sites. And every time somebody reads one of those articles, a little piece of the computer code will go, call home, and AP will say, ah hah, this site was displaying our article. At a minimum, that is going to give them a census of all of the places that AP articles are displayed and how many times people read them, and that will in turn give them the chance to start marching against people who are using their articles that aren't paying for them and ask them for money, nicely, or, in the case of the AP, often not so nicely.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, separately from the AP, there is a consortium of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Hearst, Reuters, MediaNews Group, McClatchy and Conde Nast, the magazine publisher that has hired a company called Attributor with a slightly different approach to the problem. Can you tell me what Attributor is supposed to do?
SAUL HANSELL: The key thing to understand here is this is something created by Attributor and they have gotten these news organizations to sign on to look at it, and they have varying degrees of commitment. Here’s what Attributor’s scheme is for. They're trying to deal with a case where somebody copies an entire article from a newspaper or magazine and pastes it onto their blog or website and puts ads against it —wholesale piracy. They're not messing around, at least in the first instance, with the question about what about a headline or just a little excerpt or a link. So what they have built is a specialized search engine that can crawl the Web and find all the places that newspaper articles or magazines have been copied in totality. So their idea is go to the Googles of the world who put ads on all these blogs and say, hey, wait a second, Google, you’re putting ads on the sites of pirates. That’s not fair. So why don't you give some of that money that you would be giving to the pirates back to the newspapers, and then everybody should be happy. The pirates can run their sites, the newspapers can get paid for their content, Google and Yahoo! and so on can be part of a law abiding community and the world will be a happier place.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, and let's just clarify the process by which a dinky little blog somewhere can actually have advertising attached to it that has been served by Google. Google has an automated system that any Web publisher, no matter how large or small, can accept ads, often for very, very tiny remuneration, but in the aggregate it amounts to real money. Correct?
SAUL HANSELL: Indeed, and that’s the whole theory here. It’s not like you’re finding a handful of sites that are stealing enormous quantities of news articles and making lots and lots of money. But the argument goes that all these little blogs in aggregate, each getting paid dollars a month by Google, total up to what Attributor says is 250 million dollars a year.
BOB GARFIELD: Now [LAUGHS], this all assumes that 250 million dollars a year spread among all of those members of the consortium is going to amount to anything in their futures. It probably won't, much. But if Attributor is right, and if the members of the consortium have bet right, Google will be asked to return to them some portion of the revenues that they have themselves aggregated from all of the hundreds of thousands of websites that they serve. Has Google given any indication whether it’s going to sign onto this scheme?
SAUL HANSELL: Their official stance is they are reviewing the proposal. But as I talk to people who are very familiar with the advertising networks and the law, there is an enormous amount of skepticism. Google’s customer are all those bloggers taking ads and they want to do right by them. There is a big question about whether it is even legally appropriate for them to be put in the middle. So I think that there is going to be a big hurdle convincing the Googles and the Yahoos! of the world to do this.
BOB GARFIELD: So I want to change the subject entirely to another way to monetize newspaper content, and that is to return to the notion of charging readers for reading, let's say, The New York Times on the Internet. The New York Times Company CEO Janet Robinson confirmed that there is a, quote, “high likelihood” of restoring a paywall on The Times’ website.
SAUL HANSELL: They have said publicly that they're looking at two models. One they call the metered model, modeled after what The Financial Times in London does, which is gives their content free to anybody up to ten pages a month or some such, and if you’re one of the small number of readers who consumes the great number of pages, you'll be asked to pay to read it more regularly. But this is meant not to cut off the discussion where somebody gets linked in from a blog or something else where they can sample content and talk about it. That’s model one. The second model is what I call the NPR model. All the basic content is free, but there is some level of membership that lets you feel part of something that might give you things like hats and teeshirts and insider access to something special, which is basically a way of saying, if you love The New York Times and want to support it and feel part of it, you can pay us money, but if you want to read Maureen Dowd or the White House coverage, that’s still free.
BOB GARFIELD: For a donation of only 90 million dollars you can have The Boston Globe.
SAUL HANSELL: I'll bet you can get it for less than that.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] I'll bet you can. Well, Saul, once again, thank you so much for joining us.
SAUL HANSELL: It’s great to be here, thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Saul Hansell is a staff writer at The New York Times and writes for The Times’ technology blog, Bits.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] This is On the Media from NPR.