The new accord between Google and the wire services -- Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Press Association (UK) and Canadian Press -- has been met with a range of reaction from ho-hum to what-were-they-thinking.
My old boss Tim McGuire is in the latter camp: "The first question is how much money is at stake here? I’m guessing newspapers still provide a LOT more of APs revenues than do partners like Yahoo and Google. Which leads to the second question, where are the angry newspaper people with their fiery pitchforks and nooses? I’m more than a little surprised newspaper executives aren’t up in arms over this partnership."
It reminds me of something I heard McGuire say many years ago: "Tactically smart and strategically dumb." You could apply that label to a whole series of decisions made by the AP, and the newspaper-dominated AP board, over the years.
But I'm in the ho-hum camp, for a couple of reasons.
Reason #1 is that AP's goose has been in the oven for years. The association came into being in 1846 to fix a problem that no longer exists. Technology and the market have moved on.
Habits are changing. People who are interested in news have the whole world at their fingertips, and routinely consume news from multiple sources. People with less interest rely on word of mouth, which also has been amplified and accelerated by the Internet. As a result, the value of AP news to newspapers is dropping rapidly.
Only an aging minority still relies on print for global news. There is nothing AP can do to change that.
Reason #2 is that there is little or no impact on local media online revenues. Most local media websites get their revenues from local advertising, which is targeted and naturally sells at a premium relative to "junk inventory" network advertising. Random traffic referrals from Google News have no value in that model, so losing them is no big deal.
But beyond that, traffic to wire content on most local websites is not significant to begin with. Some local websites have already pulled the plug on wire news; many never had it in the first place.
Local news websites are under tremendous pressure to build audience. Having generic AP content isn't an effective way to do that, so they're turning to blogging, photo galleries, social networking tools and databases of local information.
At some point, wire copy is not merely of low value, it's of negative value. Local sites are drowing their users with too much stuff, too many links. As Jakob Nielsen has said, every added link subtracts from the prominence of every other link. A cleanup is in order.
I'm not celebrating any of this. It just is.