Sat - 23.09.2017

Online propositions aim for the value of journalism

Online propositions aim for the value of journalism

As the bottom has progressively fallen out of print advertising and the economic downturn has left publishers in many parts of the world parched of advertising income, original sources have become increasingly skeptical of giving up their content for free. Many argue that publishers' reliance on advertising online, while not making users pay for content, is flawed, and has sacrificed the perceived value of quality content.

Yet those across the publishing industry are looking for solutions, and two separate initiatives have taken complimentary approaches to the now crucial promotion and defense of the value of online publications. The first, a work in progress, is an attempt to generate circulation revenue from online subscriptions. The second defines a group of communication standards for publishers and authors that attempts to translate the use rights of copyright law onto the Internet. Both aim to give publications an opportunity to defend their content while also creating and marketing a valuable product.

Steven Brill (left), of Journalism Online, and Mark Bide, of ACAP

Paying for content

Journalism Online, LLC, a project by Steven Brill, Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery, hopes to sell newspapers its "e-commerce engine" to implement content payment systems through which publications may offer content at self-determined prices. Consumers, meanwhile, will be allowed to create a single account, usable across all newspapers using Journalism Online. The company will provide subscription systems, will market the subscription and will license the content to intermediaries such as search engines.

In an interview with Shaping the Future of the Newspaper, Steven Brill said that as a lecturer of a journalism course at Yale University, he suddenly became conscious of the talented young people he was sending into a profession ready to implode "because a bunch of publishers made a crazy decision to give everything away for free."

Brill sighted two barriers facing the online payment model, the initial cost itself and the laborious process of exchanging payment information in order to access content.

"We intend to eliminate the second part of it by having one account, one password, across hundreds and hundreds of newspaper Web sites. By presenting multiple options for people to pay, there are two reasons for that, one is so the publishers can work out what's best and second is so that the consumer has the choice the consumer wants," Brill said. "Having a micro-payment makes more sense than saying to me if you want to read that article you have to subscribe for a year, or a month, or even a week."

Through use of iTunes-like micro-payments for the newspaper and magazine industry, Journalism Online will also eliminate the cost, time and effort involved with online subscriptions, he said. However, where iTunes bypasses any consumer relationship with the artist or record label, Journalism Online aims to promote the value of consumer - publisher interaction, leaving control over the product in the hands of the publisher.

"You know iTunes is a viable economic model for iTunes, it's not for the music industry because iTunes controls the relationship with the customer and the pricing and everything else. What we are trying to do is equip individual publishers to have a relationship with their customer, to decide on pricing, to decide on the method of charging. And we think that's going to help a lot," Brill said.

Brill denounced the idea that quality content is dispensable: "Publishers, in addition to having been suicidal, also have developed an inferiority complex, they just think their stuff is all just fungible, and it is not!"

While the company predicts only 5 percent to 10 percent of a publication's regular online audience will become paying online subscribers, Brill said he believes boutique journalism will attract a boutique audience, opening a novel stream of circulation revenue. The distinct content offered at different community levels by different publications and the distinctive brand names of the top newspapers, will see the Journalism Online subscription model serve local papers and national titles alike.

"It seems to be the case, obviously, that the more distinctive the content is the more likely it is you'll pay for it because you don't have an alternative, so I think a lot of very local newspapers will do very well because they will be reporting on the soccer score in last night's soccer game at the local high school in a way that probably no one else is.

"On the other hand the Financial Times has a very good business charging for its content because people consider that its brand of reporting in the world of business and finance is distinctive and is worth having, and they want to read it because they know their competitors in the business world are reading it. I think it really depends both on the customer, on the context and on the audience that the newspaper is trying to reach."

The company is conscious that is venturing into the great unknown, a field where consumers have long been gifted a product for free. However, Brill said he sees no alternative and Journalism Online has generated "tremendous" interest from an industry that has for too long been a passive observer of its own gradual collapse. The question is no longer whether to charge for online content but what, when and for how much.

"There is not a single publisher I know who if you called them up and said 'do you expect to have all your content for free online in the foreseeable future?' ... who would say yes, and if you had asked that question two months ago probably two thirds of them would have said yes."

Copyright protection

The Internet's inherent existence as an open source platform has created massive dissemination, reproduction, collaboration and consumption of information, but also massive copyright infringement.

In 2006 the Court of First Instance in Brussels found Google Inc. guilty of copyright infringement for its use of headlines and brief abstracts of news items from third party Web sites that it used to link back to original articles. At the time, the legal victory for Belgian newspaper publisher Copiepresse was labelled "pyrrhic." While the company's Belgian, French and German daily newspapers would no longer have their rights infringed, neither would their content be part of the common collective of information offered by Google.

The Copiepresse/Google case was the exception in 2006, but courts are being continually barraged with questions on the online exploitation of content.

In an attempt to clarify the use rights of online content, an industry-based organisation has created licensing tools to define the legal relationship of authors and publishers of online material and subsequent users.

The Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP) is an initiative of the European Publishers Council, the World Association of Newspapers and the International Publishers Association and hopes to provide copyright holders with the power to define how their content is used in the online environment in the same way they are able to control the use of their copyright in the physical form.

Project Coordinator Mark Bide labelled ACAP's communication standards an "Internet scale solution to an Internet scale problem." With the excess of content available, ACAP wants to communicate use rights in a form that can be processed by software agents when they access a work, at a level the precedes the final consumer.

"Its purpose is to allow content owners to communicate permissions to potential users at a machine-to-machine level. It is simply no longer possible for all permissions transactions to be human-mediated. We need an Internet scale solution to an Internet scale problem - and that means a machine-to-machine language for the management of permissions. This is primarily aimed at the business-to-business space, rather than business to consumer - and within that context enforcement should be entirely unnecessary," Bide told SFN.

While ACAP does not influence the perceived value of online content, it does act at a deeper level to give the publisher the power to defend how content is used. The ACAP communication standards automatically regulate levels of permitted access to content.

By defining use rights at a technologically primary level, the ACAP tools enable publishers to implement business model choices that reintroduces the legal basis for the value of content.

Whether ACAP and Journalism Online will succeed in the long term is unknown, yet both seek to create an economic model for journalism that is reliant on the content itself, rather than advertising, giving publishers control over their own businesses.


Leah McBride Mensching


2009-06-29 19:33

Shaping the Future of the News Publishing

© 2015 WAN-IFRA - World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Footer Navigation