Free! Why is it when it comes to the internet and media, free is becoming a four-letter word online while offline, free’s simply the way business has been done? Below, some thoughts on free online versus offline plus the difficulty of “licensing” newspaper content.
Radio stations play music all day long, for free. Just giving away all those songs like that. Why haven’t the recording companies shut them down? Why do I not read editorials constantly about how we need new copyright laws to protect music from the perils of being broadcast for free? How can those poor artists stay in business, when this happens?
Well, radio does pay. Behind the scenes, to my understanding, stations pay licensing fees that seem to pretty much let them do whatever they want. Online radio suffered because similar fees were unreasonably priced. But that all got fixed recently, making folks like Pandora very happy.
Broadcast TV beams television programs to me and others for free all day long. Again, where’s the outcry from writers, actors and anyone involved making video content. These stations just give it away!
Again, to my understanding, TV stations are paying behind the scenes. Someone’s getting paid, and someone’s getting paid at a rate that isn’t unreasonably bankrupting television stations, it appears.
And then there are newspapers. Now if you’re a newspaper, but you don’t have reporters everywhere, wire services are there to help. People like the AP. You pay to take in content. If you’re a member, you can also contribute your stories. You also get the right to mashup and reuse those stories as you like. I know, because I used to mashup AP stories into LA Times and Orange County Register stories all the time, when I worked for both of those papers. Having the AP was a license to quote and splice as you liked.
Some newspapers and wire services, of course, are concerned that today others like “aggregators” are stealing their headlines while bloggers are quoting beyond fair use. Both aggegators and bloggers are relatively recent players (about 5 years old) in the media space. Newspapers have been in decline far longer than that. Still, it’s aggregators and bloggers that get painted as the main killers of print journalism.
Look, why’s free working for radio and TV but not papers? Heck, why’s free working for newspapers offline but online, there’s suddenly this new cry that newspapers aren’t “getting paid.”
My local paper is the Daily Pilot. It is free. Free. I want to read it, I just walk over to my local store, where it sits in a stand free for the taking. No editor yells that I’ve somehow ripped them off, when I take my paper. The opposite. I’m a reader, valued because advertisers want to reach me.
Another local paper is the Los Angeles Times. I pay for this, to get it Thursday through Sunday. I probably pay like $1 per copy. Is that $1 paying for the entire paper? Most of it? Somehow, I doubt it.
Advertising is not dead and has been merrily paying for free in the offline world for ages. As more people do things online, ads will also pay for content there. Not the entire amount, and not in every case. But they’ll contribute, perhaps a lot.
The chief problem today seems to be that ads online are simply underpriced compared to the audience they reach. That will change, as the audience change. If more people are watching TV, listening to music or reading news online than offline, they’ll be more valuable to reach, and ad prices should rise online (and drop offline).
In the meantime, it’s certainly wise for additional revenue models to be considered. And that leads me back to the AP or other newspapers. Put together a decent licensing package. Don’t charge me $12.50 to quote 5 words (as the AP’s self-serve forms do). Give me reasonable fees to take your content, and I might do that — just as millions of people are willing to pay reasonable prices to download music online.
Right now, I defy anyone running a blog to visit the AP site and figure out how much it costs to take in content. No rate card’s out there. AP Digital offers a bunch of services but no clear costs. The AP contact form really leaves you thinking the AP is going to concoct a deal to pull whatever it thinks it can get out of you, which is likely to overestimate how much you earn.
I’d tell you more, but months ago when I made inquiries about licensing content for Search Engine Land using two different routes, I never heard back. So there’s another problem. Is anyone answering the phone?
For more background, I suggest these two past posts from me:
- How Mashable & Hacker News Ripped Off My Newspaper Story
- Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories?
Both stories get into licensing issues plus illustrate, using the AP as an example, the difficulty in licensing content.