Oct 182009

At the recent World media summit in Beijing, the stage was set for a ugly confrontation between two pillars of the modern web and information exchange – content creators and aggregators. Content creators like news websites argue that aggregators like Google, wikipedia take the revenue away from the people who actually work to create the news. In short aggregators were accused of freeloading.

Rupert Murdoch spoke at the summit saying that the time had come for content to be paid and not free as it is now. I quote some of his harsh words

“The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph.”

This was the general sentiment echoed by others at the summit. So does that mean next time I want to open an article for a news website, I would have to pay for it??  Thats simply not possible. So would news websites introduce a kind of subscription based service that would allow only paid users access their articles. That sounds feasible. But will it be profitable? Maybe a few websites like CNN, BBC might be able to attract a significant amount of users to generate some amount of revenue, but a majority of websites would be left in the limbo, with neither enough subscribers for revenue and nor any search engine directed traffic.

Come to think of it, news websites aren’t really content creators at all, they are merely aggregators at a lower level. They depend on politicians, sportsmen, the movie industry (sadly reality shows as well) to gather news. Their value addition comes when they are able to analyze, and prioritize the news and present it to their consumers in an effective way. Agreed they spend a good amount of money on gathering news and digesting it, but they have multiple revenue sources as well. Media conglomerates have a presence in television, magazines, music, radio, books and internet. Often content created can be leveraged across multiple platforms. So they are not as much at a losing end as they would like us to believe.

On the other hand, Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are not exactly free to run either. These companies spend millions on research and equipment in order to keep their consumers happy. Its by no means easy to search billions of pages while returning the most relavent results in a fraction of a second. Wikipedia, which is also accused of content grabbing, is a non-profit organization which depends solely on its users for content. Youtube has tightened its policies of uploading copyrighted video as well.

Instead of going down a path of confrontation, media companies would do well by working with the content aggegators to identify methods to increase their revenue. Maybe popular “content creators” could negotiate better revenue for the ads placed on their websites by search engines.

Whatever happens, the end user cannot be expected to pay for every news article he reads, he will simply switch to the next best free provider.