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Friday, 9 December 2005
Can Smart Aggregators Save Mainstream Media
Now Playing: Frou Frou - Let Go
Topic: Web 2.0
blur3Finally, a follow-up to last week's post on the future of the MSM.

I finally sent feedback and comments to WAMC's The Media Project, a great radio show that examines the mainstream media (MSM). Stumbled upon the show driving back from a Nantucket wedding two years ago and have been a faithful internet listener ever since. Never having written them before, I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from Alan Chartock, the professor and head of WAMC.

The Media Project always has a discussion on the current state of the MSM, including the newspaper industry, which has been losing readers and struggling financially for the last 5-7 years, conservatively. A lot of that comes from the rise of the internet and the ability to filter what you want to receive as your news. It's the long-touted rip, mix, burn culture coming to fruition, especially since RSS feeds and news readers are starting to become so popular. What does all of this mean for the newspaper industry, which has traditionally been a physical good requiring substantial production and distribution costs (covered by an advertiser-dependent revenue model)?

The internet severally reduces the costs of production and distribution but a newspaper (besides its online edition) has always been viewed as a single, discreet commodity that derives its full value from the whole of the content, not from its disparate pieces. Fred Wilson has suggested (as have others) that the future of media involves these four criteria:
  • microchunk it
  • freeing it
  • syndicate it
  • monetize it

    * I added remixing to my email to Alan, Lydia, and Rex.

    Rex liked the perspective but had a great counterpoint which deserves attention: while microchunks and remixing may work for electronic content, what about the publicly-traded companies that demand shareholder returns while the idea of microchunks dictates that web information remain free? Newspapers' revenue streams are circulation and advertising (the former pays for the newsroom) and a paper can't sustain a big staff and strong reporting (which creates the valuable content) without the circulation revenue.

    It seems like a catch-22: how do newspapers maintain the creation of valuable content while trying to embrace the trends of New Media that dictate freeing (microchunking and remixing) that very content that makes a newspaper valuable (great reporters and strong reporting)?

    Rex has undoubtedly been, and will continue, grappling with this formidable challenge. I'm not sure that I have a great answer but let's try: Smart Aggregators. Wait just a sec before you say, oh here we go, more Web2.0 mumbo jumbo. The economic or business concept of an aggregator has been well established, and not just within the pre- and post-Dot Com Eras. Following the microchink concept, Umair at Bubblegeneration discusses the idea of a smart aggregator in his mediaeconomics presentations (PPT file):

  • Aggregation-- ‘Rebundling of content from fragmented platforms & formats, re-purposing, & delivery across new platforms & standards’ (Slide 53)

  • Smart Aggregators don't just rebundle content from diverse platforms/standards, they rebundle content, information about that content (e.g. tags) and about the network, application, device, etc. (Slide 55)

    Can newspaper act as smart aggregators more efficiently than web-based tools? When it comes to local and regional news, they probably stand a chance. But ask the NY Times how it approaches the power or reach of Google News or other news aggregators for national or world news and the papers may have a different answer.

  • Aggregations add value to exchange process rather than to the goods themselves. (Digital Capital, pg. 50)

    Are newspapers valuable because of the content that they amass, consolidate, and distribute (exchange) or from the news reporting and news stories that they create? Certainly, it's the former but I agree w/ Rex that newspapers' value comes from strong reporting and good journalists (content creators). Is the Huffington Post, which was chided at its inception but has become quite popular and seemingly successful since starting in May, a quasi-newspaper or just an aggregator, adding value by bringing together different authors onto a common space where their combined voices are stronger than if they stood alone on their sites/blogs?

  • The real costs of producing a newspaper article is sunk into the first copy; the marginal costs of printing and distribution greatly influence the paper's price. (Digital Capital, pg. 77). The internet changes the rules for information goods because their marginal distribution costs tend toward zero (Information Rules).

    Food for thought-but I'm tired now, so post some comments if you have answer to the newspaper's catch-22 when it comes to microchunking and remixing.

    Just so you thought I wasn't being too serious, thanks to Mike for telling about the hilarious Secular Central clip from the Daily Show. I can hear Alan saying it now, "Bill O'Reilly, him I do not like."

    Posted by cph19 at 12:43 AM EST
    Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005 1:07 AM EST
  • Saturday, 10 December 2005 - 9:58 AM EST

    Name: Justin

    Herbie, since my last post was deleted I don't think I'll put as much time or effort into this one. But, I do think your comments are interesting about internet "news" forums "microchunking" and "remixing". I think the problems is that internet users are merely stealing information news agencies have report. Perhaps the problem is that places like Google News cash in on other peoples' work. I think maybe Congress needs to start thinking about plagurism on the internet. It's not freedom of speech when you're stealing from other people. Perhaps something like royalties are in order.

    Sorry if this has nothing to do with what you were talking about, but I didn't read your comments real carefully.

    Sunday, 11 December 2005 - 6:30 PM EST

    Name: Chris

    First, I apologize for your comment being deleted; thanks for re-posting. It's not the first time (see my Jon Stewart post where I was called a jerk for deleting a post). So yes, I hate Tripod as a blog platform and will hopefully be migrating to Typepad where I'll have more control over the design and backend (including comments) of the blog. You're exactly on the wavelength that I was talking about so thanks for commenting since I rarely receive any feedback

    I think you may have your lawyer hat on a little too tight. While I agree that there can be "stealing" of internet content (RSS = Really Simple Stealing), I don't think stealing is the right way to describe internet users or software aggregators. The essence and history of the internet has been an open and free (and I don't mean free as in "free beer" but as in "free speech"-- see Lessig's Free Culture book for more background) platform; in fact, many have argued that the internet would probably now have developed into the phenomena that we now take for granted had the internet evolved five or seven years later in the IP-happy/fair use-bad environment now so dominant.

    Yes, content owners could lock-down their articles (such as the NYT's Times Select program) but it's only reduced the page views for all of the NYT's editorials that used to be open. Not to cite Fed Wilson every time, but I agree that links are the currency of the internet. So a n aggregator like Google News is only taking information already out there for free and providing a valuable service of gathering and consolidating that free content for you. That's a value-add to me, they do the grunt work for me and serve up the content that I would otherwise have to spend time (opportunity costs) tracking down independently.

    I still visit the content owners' sites to read the actual article so I don't think that aggregators necessairly steal the content or displace ad revenue from the content owners' websites. If anything, aggregators can increase traffic to your site by making it easier for people to discover your content. Google News has leveled the playing field by allowing even the smaller news players to get their stories posted on the front page, democratizing the news process to some extent (I'm not delving into the will blogging displace traditional news reporting or the debate on whether bloggers are reporters, that's another can of worms for others to discuss).

    I don't think Congress needs to get involved in this effort, I think they have many other more important issues that are or should be on the docket. This is starting to sound like the RIAA and the MPAA pushing to have Congress legislate against all the evil internet users who "pirate" and "steal" music and movies rather than fundamentally examining how to embrace the monumental shifts in business models that the internet has wrought upon the music and movie industries. There is certainly a place for copyrights and patents but let's not stifle technological innovation b/c we're so worried about protecting IP.

    Fair use was around before the internet. Fair use should not vanish in the internet age simply because PCs and the internet use "copies" of files for every fundamental operation or task. View the recent NYPL debate over the Google Book Search or Lessig's 2002 OSCON speech for a his true knowledge and eloquence on the fair use topic. Using, citing, or referencing other peoples' work isn't stealing, it's the basis of free expression and free culture.

    Wednesday, 14 December 2005 - 6:58 AM EST

    Name: Dave
    Home Page:

    Sounds like we need to fast-forward to Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" - remember those electronic newspapers that the people on the metro car (or was it a bus?) were reading?

    Nice commentary...appreciated by one who gets all his news via a feedreader!

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