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Hey, AP: Here Are 7 Money Making Ideas for You

Last week, I suggested that the Associated Press was run by idiots, not because I have anything in particular against them, but because management seems intent on doing things that will ultimately doom the organization. Its CEO has said that AP thinks it has the power to stop what, to me, at least, is the clear legal right to quote a headline and provide a link to an AP story. The problem as AP is that everyone seems focused on the wrong problem instead of looking at some potential answers to their real issues: how to make money on the web.

Ever since the New York Times ran an interview with AP CEO Tom Curley last Thursday, many online have been up in arms. Almost immediately, the apologists came out out as did the attempts to obfuscate, as Paul Clifford, director of media relations at AP, in a comment to a Jeff Jarvis post, left links to three resources that supposedly explain the organization's position. Unfortunately, they are so much sputtering:

  • A high level diagram of the approach explains roughly what they want to do with a digital container to track use of content, but does not say what use AP thinks it can control and what it wants to charge for said use.
  • A press release says close to nothing other than it's launching this use of digital containers for stories.
  • The FAQ also focuses on the mechanism, not the end for which AP intends it.
  • However, because AP has been vocal about both thinking that others are making "millions" off their content and also wanting a cut of that "wealth," it's clear that AP wants to direct all people who want to read the content to their own sites where they can make money off advertising.

    However, there are a few things that the organization seems to be completely ignoring:

    1. Google News is the largest "offender," offering headlines, links, and initial sentences to stories from many sources, including AP. However, if anyone bothers to go to Google News, they'll notice that the company isn't running ads. The single biggest redirector of traffic that I know of doesn't make money directly off its work as an aggregator. Maybe ads are somewhere on the site that I just haven't come across, but so far as I can tell, any size cut of zero still comes out to be zero.
    2. Running a headline and a link to a story is probably completely legal, as it would fall into fair use, particularly if you remember that US copyright law doesn't recognize titles as having copyright, and that a headline is pretty much the title of a story.
    3. On the whole, only a few percent of people actually click on links, and most people aren't hopping from one site to another to get the collection of stories from which they'll choose ones to read. In other words, unless AP can because an aggregator itself, it's unlikely to be a major initial stop for most people for news, because consumers are interested in a variety of sources, not a single one claiming to be an "authoritative" voice.
    4. Even if millions of people showed up at an AP site, online ad rates are simply too low to pay for the size of organization it wants to have, and rates have been going down, not up.
    Even if AP is successful, it still won't make the money it needs to. Executives there have fastened on the thought that they're being ripped off because they cannot bear the colder and scarier truth: There may be no possible existence for their company given an online ad-based model.

    But if managers focused directly on that fundamental problem of making enough money, they might start coming up with other potential solutions. Here are a few that I was able to list off the top of my head:

    • Sell long-format investigative or analytic reports that come from reporters' work and that have some palpable value to people in corporations, universities, government, and the like. Working journalists always have a surfeit of information sitting in their notebooks that simply won't fit into normal format stories. So make use of what does not have to be kept confidential. This would be similar to a model called syndicated research, in which a market analyst firm would cover some topic and then sell reports for hundreds or thousands of dollars to those who want the in-depth information.
    • People like convenience, and many are likely to be willing to receive targeted advertising information if AP provided something in return, like going through its wide range of coverage and pulling out stories that touch on topics the consumers say in advance they have interest in. AP could put short summaries on their public sites, so Google and others could link, and then have the full stories available to the registered users.
    • For years, US News & World Report has kept itself afloat with targeted interest special issues, like the annual ranking of colleges. AP could do the same, finding areas that aren't being covered well. For example, why not a special issue on financing a college education, or on 1001 ways to cut expenses in the home? Maybe there are regional reports on school systems or tax related stories for a given state.
    • AP might offers services to other news organizations, becoming a reporting arm in geographic areas, for example, so that its client organizations can incorporate information not readily available otherwise that would have high value for their customers.
    • Because it has reporters in so many parts of the world, AP could create a travel alert service for businesses that want to know if there is anything from construction to political unrest when sending personnel into a given area.
    • Create a research database driven by meta data on stories that AP creates and make that available through subscription (that is, if AP doesn't already license this out to some of the big database companies).
    • Create consumer services that marry stories and images in ways that become potentially compelling. Why not let people order a commemorative newspaper for anniversaries and birthdays, with lists of stories and photos from the original day automatically put together, run off with print on demand, and shipped out?
    In none of these suggestions is there even a hint of conflict of interest, because no one is sponsoring the reporting and directing how news is handled. Instead, AP finds new ways to use the work its reporters are already doing that will provide high value to some entity willing to give something back in return. There are other possibilities, like offering keyword count analysis on masses of stories so individuals and companies could get some sense of their online reputation, that might seem more of an ethical sticky point. But even something like this could be done by hiring a third party service and giving it access to the published story database without them having access to the reporters themselves.

    I'm not suggesting that all these ideas are great and could instantly bring in cash. What I am suggesting is that it's possible to find new ways to think about publishing and make the money necessary to keep the whole business going. But that means making an imperative of developing new direct revenue sources that answer currently unrecognized market needs, not grousing about what you aren't making today.

    Image via stock.xchng user brokenarts, site standard license.

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