No sooner did I head off for San Diego and Maine than the Associated Press filled in the details of that something it was going to do about the supposed epidemic of sites stealing content. The AP’s plan is for its stories to carry an “informational wrapper” that will report back on where they go and how they’re used. The most-notable point about this “news registry” is the AP’s apparent philosophy about how it will be used: AP CEO Tom Curley said the company’s position was that simply offering a headline and link to an AP article — standard fare for innumerable aggregators, search sites and blogs — would require a licensing agreement.
Critics have blistered that idea as running counter to the tenets of the Web and fair use (here’s Jeff Jarvis), and there’s not a lot I can add. Except, perhaps, to suggest that a simple question is a good starting point for making things clear.
If the Associated Press didn’t exist, would anyone start it today?
The answer, to me, is an obvious and resounding “no.” At News Futurist, Jeff Sonderman is scorchingly on target in explaining why the AP has no place on the Internet. As Sonderman explains, the AP evolved to solve problems of the pre-Internet era. It’s a relic of a time in which newspapers’ reach was limited by geography and the only way to spotlight another paper’s reporting was to reprint or rework it. Today, neither condition applies: The whole apparatus of reprinting and reworking has been replaced by something simple, efficient and elegant: the hyperlink. (At reDesign, Rakesh Agrawal has takes on what the AP did wrong and what it ought to do now. And Marksonland’s Mike Markson explains why the AP is in a classic strategic investors’ trap.)
The real danger to the AP isn’t aggregators or blogs, but the lessons its customers are increasingly drawing from aggregators and blogs. As its customers evolve from print-centric to digital-centric publications, they will realize that links to original reporting are simpler and less expensive to create than paying for the same content in watered-down form. And contributors to the AP will realize that it’s far better to hoover in links to original stories and try and capture readers of those stories than it is to let them read reworked versions of those stories elsewhere. And then the AP — or, to be precise, its rewriter/aggregator arm — will be done, as much an anachronism as the physical wire across which its stories once moved.
Here’s Sonderman’s killing blow (emphasis his): “The AP is the ‘parasitic aggregator’ that it and others so often label other blogs and news sites.”
He’s right, and I suspect some form of that ironic judgment will be the AP’s epitaph.