D-Day for news publishers?

We’ve forecast the inevitability of The News Wars as news providers continue to lose audience and revenue to online aggregaters who redistribute content that others produce, frequently at great expense. Owing to parochialism and intransigence, newspaper publishers have been unable to either mount a united front or to develop meaningful innovation to compete against the Googles and Yahoos. Stay-the-course strategies and desperate deals with the Evil Axis have only deepened their despair.

A consortium of publishers now plans to launch a long-delayed assault – a kind of D-Day for the Allies. The plan, a search standard called Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), would give them more say in what search engines are permitted to do with the content published on news sites. Associated Press CEO Tom Curley said the standard could block sites from distributing content without permission. “If you want our content, we expect to be paid for it,” Curley told paidcontent’s Rafat Ali. “This nonsense that you can just take the first paragraph or use the picture small doesn’t really fly with us. People die trying to take those pictures.” Sounds like war.

News companies could suffer costly casualties in such a war. By attempting to drive news consumers to their sites by blocking search engines from linking to content, they put at risk the largest conduits of traffic to their sites: the search engines and networks that steer people to news and information online. Those users are likely to exercise brand promiscuity – their reliance on multiple brands and supplemental sourcing – as they discover additional alternatives to content. The publishers would also face a formidable backlash from a marketplace that expects open access, as well as from advertisers who require it.

Publishers already have the ability to tag stories so search engines can’t index them. So why change the standard? A smarter tactic would be to beat the enemy at its own game by creating a superior value proposition – an engine that returns results based on context and relevance, rather than popularity.

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