Are Google, Bing and Yahoo robbing content creators blind?
Are services like All-Top enriching only themselves?
Arnon Mishkin, a partner with the Mitchell Madison Group, makes a compelling argument in his article on PaidContent.org called “The Fallacy of the Link Economy” that aggregators drive neither traffic nor revenues to content creators.
Mishkin says his research shows that the blogosphere is “less an ecosystem and more of a one-way street.” The article goes on to say:
“The vast majority of the value gets captured by aggregators linking and scraping rather than by the news organizations that get linked and scraped. We did a study of traffic on several sites that aggregate purely a menu of news stories. In all cases, there was at least twice as much traffic on the home page as there were clicks going to the stories that were on it. In other words, a very large share of the people who were visiting the site were merely browsing to read headlines rather than using the aggregation page to decide what they wanted to read in detail. Obviously, this has major ramifications for content creators’ ability to grow ad revenue, as the main benefit of added traffic is the potential for higher CPMs.”
It makes sense. Think about the aggregation service All-Top (of which HighTalk is a member) as an example. My content is displayed on All Top’s Social Media section with dozens of other blogs and content sites. But All-Top doesn’t allow for people to to even search by the source – only by the topic or subject.
So search All-Top for “HighTalk” and it comes back with “Social Media.” You can then click to the aggregation page for all the blogs and web sites that write content about social media. You can find HighTalk only by scrolling through dozens of other blogs displayed in the three column format. But All-Top won’t send searchers for “HighTalk” directly to my RSS feed.
Because All-Top isn’t about helping drive traffic to my blog. It wants to provide content on various topics to readers – it doesn’t care about where the content comes from. The goal is for All-Top to be a primary resource – the portal if you will – to find the content the reader is looking for.
As All-Top explains on its site: “You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web. We’ve subscribed to thousands of sources to provide “aggregation without aggravation.”
The real goal of All-Top and all aggregators is to sell advertising on their own pages – as readers peruse the headlines of the content creators that All-Top subscribes to.
This isn’t a condemnation of All-Top or any other aggregator. It’s their business model. The argument for aggregators – and the reason why many content creators agree to allow them to display their content – is the belief that they also get something in return – lots of new readers. But if Mishkin and his research are to be believed and the “link economy” is a myth – well, now you can understand why content creators like the Associated Press and the New York Times are upset.
This is why newspaper publishers like Rubert Murdoch have called Google and Yahoo “copyright thieves.“
(Note: In searching for Murdoch’s quote, I used Google to search for it. The first link I got back was for the Huffington Post, a political blog that aggregates news content. I clicked on the link and it went to a news summary of the story a with a link to a Wired article about Murdoch’s statement. So Google and the Huffington Post got search hits from me – driving up their traffic and their advertising rates – for simply aggregating Wired‘s news story).
The AP’s CEO Tom Curley has even suggested that aggregators should buy a license to link to content.
The other side of the argument is summed up succinctly by Jeff Jarvis, pundit and author of “What Would Google Do?” Jarvis says that making aggregators pay for linking would have a simple result: It would kill the Internet.
Jarvis argues that the link economy works because in our new digital age links have more value than content. He would likely tell content creators they need to use more links. AP, New Corps and other content creators in traditional media rarely link to other stories, articles and blog posts – even in their online versions. In a sense they become the Internet’s version of a dead-end. Once you reach content on a newspaper site – there’s generally no way out – unless you back track to the content aggregator that will, of course, have another link for you to click on.
Admittedly, I’ve gone back and forth in this debate. The newspaper reporter in me thinks it is nonsense that aggregators monetize content they don’t create. Why should YouTube not be forced to share revenue on a rolling scale with the content providers? Without the content who would go there? And while its true many people voluntarily put content on YouTube – much of the premium content comes from paid services (movie clips, music videos, TV clips, etc.).
Yet, the social media consultant in me fears walled gardens on the Internet and an end to free and easy access to the information I want. Who wants to be constantly having to make micro-payments to dozens of content sites? Who wants to be forced to register at a content site every time you click on a link? And what good would search engines be if they didn’t have access to the majority of the Web’s content?
But in the end I believe content is what has value – not the links. So aggregators and content creators are going to have to find a middle ground so everyone benefits. The problem right now is that no one has the solution.
Where do you stand on the issue? Any ideas or insights you’d like to share?