The Guardian Makes It Easy To Steal Its Stories... And Its Ads

Last Updated Jul 14, 2010 10:19 AM EDT

At a time when many companies in the newspaper industry are trying to cram the genie of free access back into the bottle, British newspaper The Guardian is doing the opposite. It has made it easy for bloggers to republish entire articles, with the caveat that they include embedded spots from the paper's advertisers. It's a novel experiment, but releasing its ads into the wild could have serious consequences for The Guardian's brand.

The new tool is called the News Feed plugin, and it's just one of many experiments the Guardian has been conducting under the banner of Open Platform. Back in March the paper made all of its robust political data available to anyone to use as they wished in mobile apps and web sites. But that was raw material. The News Feed plugin is giving away finished product.

News Feed addresses the fundamental downside to forcing readers to pay for news. Most of the time they can read the same story, in whole or in part, on a blog or aggregation site like Huffington Post. That's why the New York Times has been so fearful in its approach to a paywall. Rather than fight to stem that tide, the Guardian is trying to levy a small tax. Since there is no way to track down all the bloggers who comment and quote from the paper on a daily basis, the Guardian is trying to serve up ads against some of the millions of page views that rely on its work as source material.

Advertisers care deeply, however, about the demographic they are targeting and the environment in which their ads are run. They certainly won't pay the same rate when their ad is displayed in a republished article on say, Hogwort's Newsblog as they will when it runs on the Guardian's site. And if ads embedded in Guardian stories end up on hate sites or porn blogs, it could damage relationships between the paper and sponsors permanently. There may be some revenue to collect from syndicating content this way, but The Guardian is risking a lot by bringing its advertisers along for this experiment. Image from Flickr user Wild Guru

  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.