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), 24 Oct 2006 @ 10:52pm

    Re: Re: Techdirt is missing the point

    @Mike: thanks for engaging the debate. Techdirt is a worthwhile site, even when I disagree.

    Thanks. Always appreciate the kind words -- and love to engage in informed debate.

    That may be true of TechDirt; I doubt it's true in general. And if it is, the whole issue is moot. As Rudy said above, if that approach makes more money in general, Weblogs Inc. will grow by adopting it and be surpassed by others if they don't. Engadget seems to be doing fine with these "handicaps" in place...

    Well, I'd argue that if it is true of Techdirt it's probably a lot more true of other sites. In part, that's because we refuse to put ads in our feeds (no matter how often advertisers ask us). So you could argue that we're shooting ourselves in the foot. However, we track how much traffic comes from our RSS feeds, and it's an awful lot, and it's only grown and grown and grown. We've spoken with a number of other bloggers who have experimented with both full and partial feeds, and almost every one has said that they get more readers, more comments, more feedback and more links when they do full feeds.

    As for Weblogs Inc., I agree that sooner or later they'll figure it out, but it appears they haven't yet. As for Engadget, most people get their full text feed, so I don't quite see how that supports your point.

    I agree that the Opera case is a gray area. That doesn't make the overall issue less complex.

    But the Newsgator situation is no different than the Opera one. Newsgator is simply a "browser" for WIN's feeds.

    If a publisher puts a full book online for free (but with traditional copyright rather than a CC "share alike" license), they surely won't let me copy it to my site and show ads against it. When the full-page of newspaper articles are posted online, they don't allow wholesale copy/paste to a blog (even a "legit" blog that is adding commentary); that exceeds "fair use". How does Newsgator get away with displaying a full copy on their site -- with ad revenue?

    You are viewing this incorrectly. Newsgator is not reposting WIN's content. Not at all. They're no different than a browser, reading and displaying content. It's just that it's WIN's RSS pages, rather than HTML ones. So your points about "copying" the content are not true.

    Also, I'd argue that even if when we look at your examples, you run into problems. You claim that newspapers don't allow full copies. But they do. Every time you view a page, you've copied that page to your local hard drive. Is that illegal?

    You paint the issue as simple and with only one side; it's not. It may be true that *some* publishers are better off with your approach; there certainly is *not* an overwhelming body of evidence that this approach is better for all publishers.

    No one has yet explained clearly how this hurts WIN in any way. If he doesn't like full text feeds, don't offer them. That's his call. But to claim that an RSS reader showing ads somehow harms him without any benefit is flat out wrong. There's a huge benefit in getting people to read his content. THat's why people use Newsgator (or any other RSS reader) in the first place.

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