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Paywalls Sans Frontièrs: milking a moving cow

Posted by admin on 17th February 2012

Struggling traditional media organisations are constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves, and many of them are doing well: finding new platforms for readers to access their content; finding creative ways to differentiate online content; and even empowering journalists to use social media to build a dedicated following on the back of their own identities.

An enlightened perspective would say that things are looking good.

However, for some of the more traditional media organisations unable to keep pace, they are resorting to more desperate measures to secure revenue opportunities to keep themselves alive. Newspaper websites and their paywalls are one side of this – I’m not a fan of paywalls, but if the content behind the paywall is worth it, then it can and does work. The FT is a good example.

However,  licensing fees which news organisations charge companies to share coverage has always been a major point of contention. But things have taken a turn for the worst, in spite of the valiant attempts by Meltwater and the PRCA to say ‘don’t panic’ in it’s PR this week.

From Meltwater’s CEO blog, things are clearly not quite so rosy.

The current state of UK copyright law is very sad. It is an ugly monument to outdated legal institutions and desperate measures of a struggling newspaper industry.

Okay, so the PRCA/Meltwater PR suggesting we had all been saved a big pile of cash is perhaps overselling the result, given that licensing fees are set to go up.

And the NLA hasn’t finished. It’s now going after the internet, that evil repository of free information.

It’s not only in the UK though. The Associated Press (AP) has also rolled up its sleeves, put its serious face on and, in a very scathing statement, said it is suing Meltwater. The AP calling Meltwater ‘parasitic’ according to the NPR article – blimey!

It’s getting real folks. Is AP’s extreme move another sign of panic? Well, as the NPR article suggests: “As its revenue shrinks, the AP has sought to wring more money from the Internet and mobile devices.”

When I started my career in PR, I was always impressed that no matter where I was – Wellington or Hanoi – there was usually a local AP correspondent. AP’s 3700 headcount is truly impressive, but can it continue to compete with the billions of mobile phone users who have suddenly become journalists – especially when that headcount costs AP  $0.5 billion in salaries. And, wait a minute, these citizens are not getting paid for sharing ‘news’ – should we pay a licensing fee to retweet their content too?

Doesn’t take a genius to realise the idea of charging licensing fees for sharing Google Alerts and other free online content is not in the best interests of anyone and that the current legal proceedings are a sign of something deeper affecting traditional media organisations. Like pandas, if they can’t evolve they’ll become extinct. Especially if they have really small genitalia and are really picky eaters. You could say news organisations are like farmers trying to milk a cow that’s now learning how to roller-skate.  Sorry, I’ve never been great at analogies.

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