Is There Really A 'Piracy' Problem For Newspapers?
from the totally-overblown dept
A few years ago, newspapers were all blaming Craigslist for their own business model problems. Then, of course, it became popular to blame Google. However, there’s been an odd shift recently, to a claim that the problem is from “pirates” and “parasites.” We see this in the AP’s sudden desire to DRM the news by tracking how it’s used and going after those it feels are using its content unfairly. We see it in the Marburger brothers’ plan to put legal pressure on “parasitic aggregators.” The problem, as we discussed, however, is that these parasitic aggregators are few and far between and the complaints against them just don’t ring true at all.
Being a “publisher” of sorts, this is actually an area we have some experience with. As we’ve noted many times, there are plenty of “parasitic aggregators” (we usually refer to them as “spam blogs”) that copy all our content. We track them, just because they tend to show up in searches, and one thing quickly becomes clear: they get little to no traffic at all, and any advertising revenue they bring in has to be close to nil. The average lifespan of such sites is usually about 3 months before they go away, and the argument that they take money away from us is silly. If anyone sees those copied posts, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Techdirt is the originator of the content, and from that to learn it’s probably easier/faster/better to just read the content here — plus, by reading it here, they get to take part in the conversation that’s actually happening here. The Marburgers admit that any one of these parasitic aggregators might not bring in that much money, but in aggregate (yes, aggregating the aggregators), they represent a substantial loss. Yet, they offer no evidence of that whatsoever, and as a publisher whose content is regularly used in this manner, I’ve seen no evidence that this is a real problem at all from a revenue standpoint.
Of course, that’s the lowest of the “low” on these parasitic aggregators. But the Marburgers’ define parasitic aggregators to include sites that don’t have reporters on the scene, but still have journalists who write up stories based on others’ reporting. But, oddly, the properties it names, such as Newser and The Daily Beast are both relatively small — and both try to position themselves as sort of “premium” sites, rather than (as the analysis implies) ones trying to push down CPM ad rates. If these sites are taking away any traffic from major media sites, it’s minimal at best, and it’s quite unlikely they’re really putting any pressure on newspaper ad rates.
It really just seems like a problem that isn’t there.
But adding a bit more fuel to the fire, recently, was an article in the NY Times that read more like a press release from a company called Attributor (who’s been banging this misguided drum for years), where it claims that a recent study found “publishers were losing $250 million a year from unauthorized copying.” This number is creating all sorts of questions and controversy. And, it should. Because the number is bunk. Attributor is pretty cagey with how it came up with the numbers, but it involved looking at how many pages were “copied” from 25 major publications and then extrapolating out to other media sites. Even companies that work with Attributor think the claims are ridiculous. On top of that, even if you grant the premise on these “losses,” that still represents a tiny amount of money spread across the entire industry.
But, just as with the music industry and its complaints about “piracy,” this is yet another case of people falsely declaring sales not made (or, in this case, ad impressions not loaded) as being “losses.” The reality is that you don’t know if people would have seen the content otherwise. And you don’t know if, having viewed the content at one of these other sites, they aren’t later convinced to just go directly to the source. Like music “piracy” the issue isn’t “parasites” or aggregators “free-riding.” The problem is the originating sites not adding enough value to make it worthwhile to visit them, rather than using one of these other (still tiny) sites. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re a publisher, and someone paraphrasing your content is enough to keep people away from your site, you’re not doing a very good job adding enough value on your site to get folks to visit.
This is a problem that just doesn’t exist. It’s being blown way out of proportion. There is no real problem with “parasites” or “pirates” when it comes to news content. It’s a distraction, and publications that spend a lot of time or money on it, will find that they’re taking their eyes off the real issue: providing value to bring in more users and adapting to the new media marketplace.