by Mike Masnick

How Dare You Make My Content More Valuable!

from the it's-not-so-tricky dept

Perhaps it's not that surprising, but it's a bit upsetting to still see so many people having difficulty with the idea that having others increase the value of your content is a good thing. There are the obvious cases, such as the entertainment industry lawsuits against sites and services that help promote their content. Or, publishers and authors suing Google over their book scanning project that basically will create a tremendous card catalog for books that is already helping to drive more sales. Earlier this year, in looking at some of these cases, it seemed that the only way to make sense of them was to chalk it up to jealousy. These other services were generally making some money themselves, but they were doing so by making others' content more valuable. That should be a win-win for everyone. After all, they weren't charging the original content owner to make his or her content more valuable, but just doing so on their own -- and therefore there should be nothing at all wrong with them monetizing that value for themselves. The payout to the content owner is increased anyway.

However, something started to become clear last week, when we wrote about the similar misunderstanding from News.com editor Charles Cooper, in that he claimed that Google was making money and giving nothing back. Specifically, Cooper was upset about the lack of a monetary payout, even though the content he produced is available for anyone to read free online. The problem was that Cooper had difficulty realizing that Google was paying. It was paying by driving additional traffic to News.com (and plenty of other sites) by providing a service that people enjoy using to find news. This weekend, a very similar situation played itself out. Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs Inc., which is now owned by AOL, threatened to sue any RSS aggregator that placed ads next to any Weblogs Inc. RSS feed, and reiterated his claim that their full content (with ads, mind you) RSS feeds are for "individual and non-commercial use only." Almost two years ago, we had a discussion about how exactly this issue concerning RSS feeds was destined to be a messy situation.

How do you define individual and non-commercial use in this context? As we wrote at the time, if an investor reads something and makes a trade on it, is that non-commercial use, or does the trader owe Calacanis or AOL some money? What if someone views the feed in their Gmail account that has ads down the side? Is that a violation? How about the old Opera browser that had ads showing across the top? Someone in the comments to Calacanis' post notes that he paid for his RSS aggregator software and now uses it to read Weblogs Inc. feeds. Does Calacanis deserve some of the money that was used to pay for the aggregator? With Techdirt's InfoAdvisor product, we build information portfolios for customers that include (among other things) RSS feeds that they should read, where we manage the feeds (setting it up so when they login they see what they're subscribed to without having to bother figuring out how to subscribe and how to unsubscribe from stuff). Companies pay us for this. If we recommend a Weblogs Inc. feed, is that against their terms? Just to be safe, I've instructed our analyst staff to no longer include any Weblogs Inc. feeds for our customers. This is a shame, because sites like Engadget provide excellent content. Instead, we'll need to replace them with other gadget blogs to remain on the safe side.

Again, it's a situation where it appears that one side is oblivious to the value provided by the other. Calacanis complains in the comments to his post that it's a case of "let us make money off your backs and do nothing for you in return." Except, that's not true at all. We provide value by helping get people at various companies reading the content on his blogs. Newsgator and any other RSS aggregator does a ton in return for Weblogs Inc., in getting a lot more people regularly reading their content, pointing to it, commenting on it, writing about it on their own blogs and much, much more. In all of these cases, from Cooper to Calacanis to book publishers to the entertainment industry, they ignore the value these services provide back to them in increasing their traffic, giving them lots more attention and generally helping them get more viewers/buyers/customers... and they're doing it all for free. As with Cooper, where I suggested Google send him a bill, Newsgator should consider sending Calacanis a bill for all those years of freely delivering Weblogs' Inc. content to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of readers who probably wouldn't bother to visit his sites otherwise.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 23 Oct 2006 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Come on...

    You know the difference between recommend our feed and selling advertising against it!

    I know that you said "individual, non-commercial use" and my point was only that that's not clear at all. Are you giving us permission to recommend your feeds? If so, should we need to get permission first?

    If we allow folks to sell advertising against our FULL content then we will lose 90% of our revenue. People will republish Engadget and Autoblog, call it an RSS reader, and sell ads against it.

    This makes no sense to me at all. It's your feed, you control it. You already have ads in it. Where do you lose 90% of your revenue?!?

    Besides, as I've pointed out here plenty of time, we have people who scrape our feeds and republish it on their sites all the damn time. Sometimes they put up ads around it. I know of at least 6 sites that right now, as we speak, repost all of our content with their own ads. You know what? I don't care. Those sites are obviously crappy sites that no one will ever visit, and anyone with half a brain knows to go to the original. As long as we provide value, we're confident people will come back.

    Are you so unsure of the value you provide that you don't think people would find your sites directly if others copied them?

    The RSS reader companies are just lazy in my mind... Feedburner has made a business out of feeds by GETTING PERMISSION and the reader companies could do this as well if they wanted to.

    Feedburner is a great company, and I know a few of the folks there and consider them friends. But Feedburner is an RSS hosting and metrics company. They're not an aggregator company.

    You might be right that SOME folks might provide value to us by promoting our feeds, but the majority of reader companies provide us no value, and if we let them sell ads on our content we will not be able to pay our bloggers.

    No value? How so? They're helping more people read your content (including viewing your ads, getting people to click through to read comments, etc.) the way they *want* to read your content.

    And, again, you never explain why you won't be able to pay your bloggers. At no point are your ads taken away. At no point do you *lose* any revenue. If anything, you're getting a lot more readers who give you more inventory.

    The ads being placed by the aggregator are outside of your content. They're within the software itself, and they're not selling ads "on your feeds." They're selling ads based on the users of their software, some percentage of which read your feeds.

    Just becase we publish an RSS feed doesn't mean you can break the terms by which we provide that feed (in this case for *individuals* to use and *not* make money off of).

    Again, you go back to this point, ignoring that it's not at all clear from that description. First you say that recommending your feed isn't a problem, but it's for commercial purposes. The point is that almost any commercial use of your feed is probably done in a way that benefits you too.

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