It looks as though the Associated Press is firing the first shots in what we might look back on as the Great Content Wars of the Aughts. They’re after the aggregators and search engines, mainly, not individual bloggers, although the story isn’t that clear. They want permissions and revenue-sharing, and I for one will be watching this one closely. I think this fight is long overdue, and if we’re going to have it, then let’s bloody well have it.
The initial response is about what you’d expect — most are taking the wait-and-see approach, with a few trumpeting the sort of swaggering arrogance the web does so well:
The last time they TRIED, it was a public relations nightmare for them and we in The Blogospheres had thought they had arrived at their senses — guess not. Again — JUST BRING IT ON.
“A public relations nightmare” — that’s a good one. Because if there’s one thing the AP must have, it’s good PR. They wouldn’t want a bunch of ignorant bloggers pissed at them or anything. Because, you know, the people who are stealing their content (always providing a link back in tribute) must be kept happy.
We need to have this fight, if only to establish what eyeballs are worth (my guess: nothing), what links are worth (a fraction of nothing), and finally, what content is worth. It may well be a losing battle, but it’s time to go beyond the usual response (information wants to be free nyah nyah) and actually have a reasoned discussion about free lunches.
The aggregator’s defense is that they reproduce no more than a “fair use” portion and always provide a link back (which is sort of like being paid in invisible money). The problem is, frequently that’s all the eyeballs are interested in. A friend of mine told me a few years ago, “I went from reading the paper to reading the paper online to reading a few blogs that tell me what the interesting stories are, and even then, I just read the summaries.” Broadcast news has known this for a generation at least. Why provide depth, perspective and context when you can get the gist in two or three paragraphs? Particularly when you’re gathering your audience via their political biases, all you need is the fair-use segment. You use it to touch off a getta-loada-this blog post, in and out in a couple hundred words, and on to the next one. Most people don’t want anything more, so why bother?
The AP, however, doesn’t exist to provide blogfodder. It exists to serve its dwindling list of clients, and this is where I start rolling my eyes at the stunning ignorance of most of the online commentariat. The AP is a co-op; it has its own staff reporters, but most of its content is provided by member papers, which then take the AP’s versions of other members’ stories in return. Everybody who’s done time on a news desk knows the drill — after deadline, the slot editor sends three or four of the day’s best stories to the AP, where editors trim and rewrite, then send them back out to member clients. If someone stands up at a Fort Wayne City Council meeting and shoots its august members a moon, they’ll be reading about it in Evansville a day later, not because the AP had someone there, but because they took the local papers’ stories and passed them along to the state wire.
Of course, nowadays, if such a thing happened, they’d be reading about it in Evansville via the web, via links to the Fort Wayne papers. At least, for a knee-slapper story like that. For less amusing material, maybe not. My point is, however: The AP is producing something of value, and we need to figure out what its value is. So if a big ugly lawsuit is the way to find out, time for the big ugly lawsuit.
There’s also a reckoning coming in advertising value. It’s often noted that many newspapers are being read by more people than ever before, and yet still can’t support themselves through advertising. Huh. I wonder why. Let’s take a few sports-section ad stalwarts — tires and tits. (If you’re in the market for new radials or wondering which porn star is stripping at which club, Sports is your go-to section.) Imagine being the ad salesman trying to convince the tire-store owner of the great deal he’s getting, because of all the new eyeballs. Pistons fans in Tokyo can read the Detroit News online, and keep up with the best local coverage of their favorite team! But the tires are being sold in Detroit, not Tokyo. Or San Diego, or Cincinnati. The internet has been a great boon for readers. But the strip club is unlikely to draw patrons from the Sun Belt. Some eyeballs are more valuable than others.
So, a bit of bloggage, never exceeding fair use:
The game last night was the expected blowout, and Mitch Albom sprained his syntaxes capturing it in his purplest prose. No link — go find that shit y’self.
Another incredible Sweet Juniper post, capturing blight on a Detroit “ghost street.” This, my friends, is multimedia reporting. Don’t expect the papers to figure it out.
Off to the gym to battle gravity.