As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, April 10, 2009

AP: Still Wankin'

Markos Moulitsas has been writing a series of articles about the Associated Press' desperate attempt to squeeze out a new revenue stream through intimidation and threats. He links to this fantastic takedown:

Let's go on up to Rupert Murdoch, who says Google's stealing his copyright in a recent Forbes article:

"Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?" asked the News Corp. chief at a cable industry confab in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The answer, said Murdoch, should be, " 'Thanks, but no thanks.' "

Let me help you with that, Rupert. I'm going to save you all those potential legal fees plus needing to even speak further about the evil of the Big G with two simple lines. Get your tech person to change your robots.txt file to say this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Done. Do that, you're outta Google. All your pages will be removed, and you needn't worry about Google listing the Wall St. Journal at all.

Oh, but you won't do that. You want the traffic, but you also want to be like the AP and hope you can scare Google into paying you. Maybe that will work. Or maybe you'll be like all those Belgian papers that tried the same thing and watched their traffic sadly dry up.

Perhaps all the papers should get together like Anthony Moor of the Dallas Morning News suggests in the same article:

"I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do."

Please do this, Anthony. Please get all your newspaper colleagues to agree to a national "Just say no to Google" week. I beg you, please do it. Then I can see if these things I think will happen do happen:

• Papers go "oh shit," we really get a lot of traffic from Google for free, and we actually do earn something off those page views

• Papers go "oh shit," turns out people can find news from other sources

• Papers go "oh shit," being out of Google didn't magically solve all our other problems overnight, but now we have no one else to blame.

In a similar fasion, the AP got all pissy yesterday because people were embedding video from their YouTube channel, apparently unaware (or deliberately unaware) that they could turn off the embed function themselves.

The AP wants to feel victimized by Google and other aggregators while conveniently overlooking the value they bring to their business. Their real anger should be directed at themselves. Here's Markos:

Newspapers like to see themselves as "essential to democracy" or some other such bullshit, but they've long been part of a much broader media landscape, in which broadcast and the internet have become the most efficient delivery mechanisms. And pretty soon, with convergence, they'll be one and the same. Newspapers have refused to adapt, or they've pissed away money buying baseball teams, or they've squeezed the value out of their product by demanding 30 percent profit margins, or they've expanded at unsustainable rates, or all of the above.

But they aren't the only player in town, and there are plenty of other media operations that are already mimicking the content they product, or can quickly rush in to fill the void if a true market need exists. And while we may miss having all that disparate information packaged into one convenient portable (and disposable) product, fact is that we can get just about everything newspapers provided elsewhere, and no trees have to die in the process.

This is a challenging business environment for all publishers, and the downturn accelerated newspapers' decline. But they seem to have this ridiculous sense of entitlement instead of a recognition that their business model has to change. And just up and deciding that they'll have to raise online ad rates is, um, not a plan.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. First of all, let them all decide this in collusion. Doesn't matter. It'll be equally stupid and unworkable. First of all, people won't pay for what they can get elsewhere for free, and most of what papers offer can be gotten for free elsewhere. Furthermore, the reason that online advertising is cheaper than offline advertising is that 1) offline advertising was overpriced, and 2) there's more than enough inventory online that advertisers can reach their intended audience for very little. That reality sucks, and it's one that this (advertiser supported) site has to deal with on a regular basis, but it is what it is. Advertisers have realized that they no longer need to be gouged by newspapers, and there are plenty of deals to be had online.

I mean, did this genius consultant think that newspapers weren't already trying to charge the same for online and offline advertising? That they were all waiting for his genius suggestion to slap themselves on the forehead and say, "Egads! Why didn't we think of that???" Online ad CPMs are plummeting, and in a bad economy, with desperate publishers everywhere willing to undercut the competition's rates, things are going from bad to worse. These things happen in recessions/depressions.

Throw in the fact that this stupid plan would require hundreds of newspapers to band together to shut off their content, it's clearly unworkable. Many (if not most) would balk, mindful that the local TV sites and other local and national news outlets would soak up that readership rendering them instantaneously irrelevant. Not every newspaper exec is arrogant enough to think their product is irreplaceable or so unique that people couldn't live without.

So the solution isn't to simply say, "we're going to charge more -- both advertisers and our readers." Well, it's a solution, it just won't be the winning one.

Rosa Brooks, a columnist who herself is leaving the business to work in the Defense Department, had further thoughts, mainly focusing on the idea that the government needs to "bail out" journalism. And yet the desire for information is at a record high. So the answer lies in a more creative modeling of how to get readers to pay for a physical product and/or increase traffic, not some monopolistic practice where the line between welfare and scraps is whether you get to wear the hallowed crown of journalism. I don't want to see journalism go. But the executives need to get a lot smarter.

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