Posts about syndication

No more alphabet-soup news

CNN is heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction with its attempt to start a wire service to compete with the Associated Press, I think. CNN is just trying to amortize the cost of its existing coverage by reselling it and it may find a few clients. But I’m dubious because newspapers and news sites are canceling every syndication contract they can (I did that six years ago when I worked on sites). Yes, CNN might undercut the AP, but since it takes two years to cancel an AP contract – and because newspapers have an ownership stake in the AP and because there is volume and quantity there – I don’t see CNN taking over a critical mass of AP business quickly.

But there’s a much, much bigger strategic mistake at play here:

The syndication model is dying. As the content economy is supplanted by the link economy, reselling the same story over and over again becomes increasingly impossible.

What’s needed instead is an infrastructure to share and link to original journalism. Newspapers in Ohio are doing that now. Newspapers in the New York area have said they’re working on something similar.

That network could have been created years ago when newspapers created the doomed New Century Network but it died because they wouldn’t give up control or get along. But today, they’re desperate, absolutely desperate, to save any penny by using someone else’s stuff. No longer complaining about aggregation, they must aggregate themselves.

Many players can create the infrastructure that enables newspapers to share and link to their original journalism. (and, full disclosure, I work with one of them, Daylife). But they don’t even need infrastructure to get started. All they need is email or links and permission. That, I believe, will undercut CNN’s effort to undercut the AP.

CNN is holding a meeting of newspapers editors in Atlanta this week to sell them on the new wire. If I were there, I’d gather my colleagues over drinks and form my own wire service, for free.

The paid-content widget

Today, Keith Teare at Edgeio is launching a new means to charge for — and distribute — content within a site.

I’m no great fan of charging for content — and have argued that the Times and Journal should go free — because putting up walls only limits your audience and thus your advertising revenue — not to mention your Googlejuice and participation in the conversation, thus your brand — and it also increases your marketing costs. I also doubt that syndication is a sustainable business model for content.

But this is a bit different. What Edgeio has created is a slick little widget that lets you see and then buy content without leaving a site. So let’s say you’re on GigaOm or PaidContent and they want to sell you a special report or exclusive video they’ve done. You click and buy and view the content right there within the same page. Until they’re clever enough to go free — or until someone makes them — I could see the Wall Street Journal enabling people to embed their stories on their blogs or sites with this pay structure in place: ‘Want to see the story right now, here? You can.’ The widget also has a link that lets you grab it and put it on your site, selling the content and taking a cut. Right now, this is enabled with credit card or PayPal. Here’s a demo. It’s just a demo. Don’t buy it. Really.

What interests me about this is what else it could do and the implications that has for the architecture of content distribution.

One idea: Instead of paying for an individual article or video, they could enable membership. If you belong to the PaidContent club — if you pay a membership fee or go to one of their conferences — you get access to this content as a benefit.

Now layer on time as a factor. My son, a big fan of Diggnation, pays so he can get early access to the show. What if you charge for early access to a show — even a network show, even a magazine article — but it later goes free? If you care enough to get it now, you can.

Next look at the idea of paying with play money readers earn by doing something you want them to do. Watch these ads and earn the points to see that content. Click on ads and earn the points. Answer a survey to get points. Use your frequent flier miles. All this could be a pain in the ass but the pain of taking action or giving attention may be less than the pain of payment. And an advertiser could be seen as subsidizing your access to content: You could pay $1.95 but if you’ll just answer my two questions or watch my ad, you’ll get it for free (the Salon model).

Teare isn’t doing these things yet but he says he could. And again, I’m not endorsing any of these means to charge for content. I will regret it if this is used as another means to put up walls; it should be used as a new way to distribute more broadly. But I think it will be interesting to watch whether putting the checkout on the page you’re reading may make a difference.

But now finally — here’s the fun part: Take away the idea of payment entirely and look at this as a way to distribute content. (That’s my thought, not Teare’s.) I’ve long wished that I could grab an excerpt or an entire story and put it here on this page with branding and links intact. Imagine I wanted to share a great Guardian story with all of you. Today, of course, I’d link to it and quote it. But why shouldn’t I be able to show you the whole thing here, just as I can show you a video? What if news sites make their content — not just video but audio, text, photos, and graphics — available in player widgets we can put on our sites? And if they get to do it with brand and the ability to track data then they’ll be motivated to open up their content for us all to share. This becomes the basis of a new architecture of content: after the page, after the audience network.

Everyone in media is about to go widgetmad but they’re thinking about it the wrong way: They are deciding what to put in the widgets (here are our headlines, take our quiz…). We should decide what we want in the widgets that we distribute.