- The second-quarter earnings for The New York Times Company. On the earnings call, CEO Janet Robinson referenced the company's plans to get people to pay for online content.
- The Associated Press' addition of a software "wrapper" around its online content that will let the organization keep tabs on it as it gets disseminated throughout the online universe. Sites that use AP content will have to have a licensing agreement. In perhaps the most wrong-headed part of this initiative, the AP is employing this new software using the broadest interpretation of use possible, even encompassing the links to full stories that appear on search engines.
But, there's also a big problem with both these attempts: you have to have a market in order to charge for something, and it's unclear whether either the Times, or the AP, has enough of a market for what they're trying to sell. Given the lay of the land today -- where content is mostly free -- It's like charging people to walk down one side of the street. As long as the other side of the street isn't charging, people will just switch over.
As is well known, the Times has tried to charge for some content in the past, and the effort failed. If the Times does end up having a market of those who would pay, my bet is those who do so will pay mostly out of fear that if they don't, the organization will go away. That's not a very promising way to make a market as it creates one only amongst the true loyalists.
In the AP's case, it has two markets: its members, and sites that might use, and pay for the content. While it can wrap the software around AP-produced content, the organization also needs to convince a critical mass of its 1400 members to be a part of this effort. However, judging from this story about the initiative, it appears there's a sizable base of news organizations which have doubts about what the AP is doing, particularly when it comes to wanting licensing agreements for small abstracts that appear in search engines. Not only are those a traffic-driver, but it's unclear, from a legal perspective, whether the AP is taking its definition of use too far.
As for the market of those who might pick up AP content, it's obvious that this would essentially limit distribution of content by the AP and its members. While some sites have the money to pay for content, they wouldn't necessarily do so; there is already too much free content out there. Others, for economic reasons, would have to decline.
Nice try, guys, but I'd be surprised if either of these initiatives worked.
(MINOR UPDATE: Buzz Machine's Jeff Jarvis just provocatively tweeted, "It is time to replace the Associated Press and there are many ways to do it.")
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