The API's Plan To Save Newspapers: Let's Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

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At last week’s hush, hush meeting of newspaper execs on how to monetize content and save a dying industry, the American Press Institute presented a white paper that offers a step by step plan of how newspapers should move forward with paid content. Nieman Journalism Lab posted a downloadable copy of the report, which has some interesting recommendations. Poynter also provided a comprehensive review of the report. We’ve embedded the document below.

The report suggests several models to implement paid content, including micropayments, subscriptions and hybrid models. Google is compared to an atom bomb that “blew up the content business into millions of atomized pieces,” leaving news organizations with the mess of putting things back together. Comparing newspapers to “Humpty Dumpty”, the paper paints a “poor-me” tale of how news orgs are scrambling to put all the pieces back together to “restore their integrity.” And of course, news enterprises are also forced to suffer a second related atom bomb: hyper-linking. The report says: “The culture of hyper-linking and hyper-syndication that fuels the interactive Web has become an atom bomb for the old news business model.” So the remedy for putting the pieces back together according to the API: charge for content, stick it to Google, and renegotiate subscription models with Amazon for the Kindle (which it implies is unfairly making more money from content than newspapers). Apparently, nobody at the API has actually read Humpty Dumpty, otherwise they would know that you can never put the pieces back together again.

The API recommends a five pronged business plan, divided by “doctrines,” to charge users for content:

  1. True Value Doctrine: Newspapers should create value by beginning to charge for it.
  2. Fair Value Doctrine: In order to maintain the value of content, newspapers should aggressively enforce copyrights and right to profit from published content.
  3. Fair Share Doctrine: News orgs should start to negotiate with the technology industry for higher prices for content that is aggregated, redistributed, broken up, and linked to.
  4. Digital Deliverance Doctrine: Newspapers should invest in technology and digital platforms that could “provide content-based e-commerce, data sharing and other revenue-generating solutions” at “premium prices.”
  5. Consumer Centric Doctrine: Newspaper need to refocus their content from advertisers to readers/consumers.

The section of the paper that addresses Google is part sad, part funny and part delusional. Google, the “atom bomb,” is also a “frenemy” to newspapers, citing Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, and VP of products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, as the top frenemies at Google. The paper concedes that Google provides 25 to 35 percent of the traffic to news web sites but says that Google is taking a disproportionate share of profits from content creators. Reading between the lines, the paper suggests that Google’s profits are being stolen from newspaper’s profits. In order to seek compensation from Google, the API suggests that news organizations should put legal, political, business and technological pressure on Google, and other “powerful players” in the digital space including MSFT, Yahoo, AOL, and Facebook.

That’s right.  Part of the plan is for newspapers, which are technologically challenged, to put “technological pressure” on the technology giants.  That plan is even less likely to succeed than the Humpty Dumpty one.

It’s understandable that newspaper organizations are trying to figure out the best way to move forward in the industry, and I think that this report does outline their options for monetization (if that is the remedy) fairly well. Although, many don’t necessarily agree with this. But the passive aggressive finger pointing at Amazon, Google and others seems to be a bit off. As author Michael Connelly wisely says in an interview, “Google doesn’t kill newspapers. People kill newspapers.”

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