AP to Aggregators: Free Ride Is Over

At NAA: Plan Aims to Cut Off Content to 'Parasites' of the Internet

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Associated Press revealed a new plan today designed to protect its news content from "misappropriation" on the web.

Dean Singleton
Dean Singleton Credit: AP
The way blogs and aggregators summarize, link and excerpt original news content from sources such as the AP has become a major issue this year as the fight for ad dollars, or pennies, has intensified. The AP and others that spend big money producing professional journalism hate seeing other sites benefit from their labor. Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Thomson recently told The Australian that sites that aggregate content without paying a fee are "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet."

Big media outfits are also increasingly annoyed that search engines frequently send people to those sites before the outlets that produced the content in the first place.

AP Chairman Dean Singleton, who's also CEO of the MediaNews Group, told the AP's annual meeting today that the free rides were going to stop. The AP will work with sites that license their content and seek legal and legislative remedies against those that don't, he said. It plans to develop a system to track who picks up its content and how they use it. And it will build search-engine-friendly subject pages filled with recent, "authoritative" links, hoping searchers will see those pages above blogs and aggregators.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," he said.

The effort is not certain to succeed. It's far from clear that courts and lawmakers will agree to punish sites that discuss other outlets' news or gather headlines from around the web.

The AP meeting was held in San Diego during the Newspaper Association of America's annual convention. Some newspaper publishers are also gathering off-site to discuss whether and how to start charging for access to their content, according to a report by Alan Mutter, the newspaper-vet-turned-Silicon-Valley-entrepreneur.

Shift to conscious consumption
The angst over linking, of course, is driven by the decoupling of news from advertising. Finding a way to put the two back together is a puzzle no one has solved.

Earlier in the day, publishers heard from a retailing expert about the state of one of their most important advertising categories. Newspapers shouldn't expect Americans to rediscover the carefree shopping habits that supported lots of retail advertising, but papers probably can exploit some new attitudes that will outlast the recession.

Americans emerged from the Great Depression with a frugality that would last a generation, Dan Sanek, exec VP at TNS Retail Forward, said in a presentation to the Newspaper Association of America's annual meeting. Americans followed the recession of the early '80s, on the other hand, with conspicuous consumption. But they'll answer this recession with a further shift toward "conscious consumption," Mr. Sanek said. "We're trying to conserve money and conserve the planet at exactly the same time."

This was happening even before the recession, but the financial meltdown has just encouraged it. Now brands are under attack by non-brands -- bottled water by tap water, for example, and branded cleaning supplies by homemade mixes of water and vinegar. People tell researchers they want to avoid wasteful spending or flaunting their spending, desires that are redefining the luxury market.

"We have to recognize that these issues are not going to go away in the next three to five years," Mr. Sanek told the crowd. Newspapers and marketers should both ask themselves, "What can we do to be consistent with consumer trends?"

In at least one way, however, newspapers already have good position. Conscious consumption also often means thinking and shopping locally, Mr. Sanek pointed out, a dynamic that plays into newspapers' continued strength in their home markets. "That is the key advantage that you have over every other medium."

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