So what is newspapers' problem with aggregators? This is not a rhetorical question. I genuinely want to know.
On Tuesday this week, a group of UK newspaper editors went to Parliament to complain about their inability to negotiate with Google (News?), as a group, for the right to link to their stories. And today Paidcontent reports that the UK's Newspaper Licensing Association "says it will from September extend its licenses to cover web links" – i.e. it will (try to) charge people for the right to link its content.
We all know the arguments against this sort of thing – most famously articulated by Jeff Jarvis. Links bring traffic and traffic means ad money. What's not to like?
But what is the opposite argument? I've heard lots of things, but I'm not sure they amount to a case. This is what I've gathered from reading on the web and talking to newspaper people over the last month or two. I would really appreciate any corrections, additions, comments etc.
- Aggregators (Google News) and curators (Huffington Post, Drudge) compete with newspapers' own front pages. This means that
- Newspapers' front pages get fewer hits and less money
- Newspapers don't get to promote other articles – which leads to fewer hits and less money
- Newspapers lose their agenda-setting powers
- Newspapers lose their direct relationship with their readers – because aggregators' audiences don't look for newspapers' brands, and may not ever care who published the articles they read
- Readers who arrive from aggregators or search engines read fewer articles (usually one)
- Front pages ads have higher CPMs
- Readers who don't care about the front page are less likely to subscribe, because of the brand/relationship problem
All of these issues are about aggregators stealing audiences from newspapers' front pages. But how much of an overlap is there between aggregators' audiences and those readers who might conceivably have visited the newspaper's front page if the aggregator didn't exist? An example: the US edition of Google News featuring an article from the Scotsman's on Susan Boyle. Very few US readers would have gone to the Scotsman just to check if it had something interesting.
Everybody seems to agree that for most news sites the proportion of readers arriving via the front page is decreasing; but is the actual number decreasing too? For what types of paper? For which market segments?
Finally - to the extent that aggregators are stealing audiences from newspapers' front pages, you could say that they are "bad news" for them. Maybe. But whether or not this is the case has very little to do with how large Google is. Google's large share of the aggregator market may (perhaps) give it bargaining power when newspapers ask for money. But newspapers would still have the problems (1-4) above even if Google had a small share of the aggregator market. Whether newspapers, without colluding, could impose a linking fee on an industry of small aggregators looks very much like an open question from here.