The AP is poised to flip the age-old relationship of content provider and distributor. Inside ten years, the AP will control the distribution path to the largest possible audience, and will be offering member papers a kickback on all ads served against its articles.
The flip is already happening. An early example is AP's video distribution service, operated in a partnership with the Great Satan of Redmond, WA. Among provisions of the deal is an ability to pay member newspapers a portion of revenue generated by video content that's provided by the newspapers.The Associated Press of the past -- the member-owned service distributing both shared and original content to member newspapers, for local reproduction -- is dead. The myth of the AP is powerful in journalism mythology, so many in newsrooms even today believe that the majority of AP's content comes from newspapers, and is delivered to newspapers. But it's not true. AP has moved on. Most of its revenue comes from non-member content syndication. Most of its content comes from staff. The old core of its membership base, the 1,400 or so local newspapers in the United States, is slowly and quietly drifting away. To preserve its very existence, AP is reading the trends and moving ahead rather than fighting the larger market forces -- a path its member newspapers would be wise to follow.But I don't buy the "control" assertion, for two reasons.The first is that relatively little local content is of broad global interest. Most local content -- and especially hyperlocal, neighborhood-level content -- is of exclusively local interest, and there local brands are going to continue to dominate as distribution tools.The second is that nobody controls distribution -- including local brands. It's an open world. Right now the Number One global distribution channel for U.S. newspapers arguably isn't the AP at all. It's Yahoo. While it trails AP in total numbers (it "only" represents about 40 percent of newspapers, by circulation), Yahoo has both the audience, the integrated advertising network and the technology necessary to make it all work.