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Free vs Fee: The future of news

SLA Europe’s panel session on 3 November brought together producers, licensors and aggregators of news content.

Andrew Hughes (Newspaper Licensing Agency) described their approach to licensing B2B use of online content. NLA claim that 31% of online content is not published in print. I’d like to know whether that’s 31% of actual news, or whether it’s counting opinions/ features or even the user-generated comments on websites. If the latter, is that really what business will pay for?

Laurence Kaye (Laurence Kay Solicitors) rattled through 10 key legal points (Neil Infield has recorded these here). He says that an effects-based approach to regulation would deal with a number of the issues; what is actually being done with the infringing information and how is that affecting the legitimate owner?

Laurence C. Rafsky Ph.D (Acquire Media) presented a hierarchy of ‘free.’ At the top: that which is professionally produced, & intended for gratis distribution. At the bottom: that which is not intended to be free but is taken anyway. User-generated amateur content in the middle. He also voiced concern about content that’s free for some, but not others. We were cautioned that just because Google says it’s free content – that doesn’t necessarily equate to actually being free.  We are referred to one author’s side of the story.

Jeremy  Lawson (Dow Jones & Company) also was present and his opening statement affirmed Dow Jones fully supported publishers’ rights.

Pertinent points raised in the subsequent Q&A session were…

  • Around 2/3 of traffic to online newspapers arrives via Google news
  • Business models are based on the paper-based technology. If we designed a news delivery system today from scratch we’d have very different ideas on what to do.
  • How do individuals have a sense of differentiation, between their use as a consumer (reading the FT on their commute) and as a businessperson (copying the article to a client later)?
  • An aggregator-driven increases in website traffic is not necessarily the answer to problems in a newspaper’s online business model.
  • Publishers will find ways to leverage their investment in the content production. 

There were no hard and fast answers to be given; some strong speculation and some interesting ideas. Chatting to other attendees over a glass of wine in such a lovely venue was a great way to round off the evening. I consider it a success when I don’t quite get to speak to everyone I wanted to! So thank you to the panel members, SLA Europe, and Dow Jones for their kind sponsorship.

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