Longform.org is a private company – despite the dot-org in its URL. The company curates content – in this case long-form journalism from magazines and newspapers. The company selects what it deems the best in the category and presents the articles in a beautiful and elegant format that makes them easy to read on mobile devices.
Like many curators, Longform has a business model. In this case, the company sells advertising around the articles it selects. These are articles have been culled and pulled from the websites of other news organizations. Longform argues that it links to the sites and drives traffic and awareness for them.
Again, like many other curation companies, Longform.org does not pay the news organizations for the content.
This is the challenge of the Link Economy. Should third-parties who curate and display content created by others be able to profit from them? Or should those profits be given back to the content creators? Or should there in the very least be some kind of revenue sharing where creators split the revenues with the curators?
This is a big question, but it usually gets skirted over. No one really wants to talk about it. It’s like bringing up politics and religion at the Thanksgiving table.
Right now curators are free – most the time – to display, syndicate, and profit from the creative endeavors of others. Let’s not beat around the bush here: Is curating content an elegant from of theft?
As David Carr, media critic for the New York Times, noted at SXSW last week: “It will be great while it lasts.” In other words, curating content will become difficult – if not impossible – when there’s no one left to pay for the actual creation of the content.
I don’t mean to single out Longform. Curation is everywhere on the web. From social platforms like Pinterest and Posterous to how tens of thousands of bloggers get content for their blogs. We all share content – a form of curation – on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
But let’s isolate. Sharing content on Facebook and Twitter is different from companies that have a business model to do so. First of all, individuals who share aren’t profiting from it. They sharing things they like, love, or have an interest in. As a blogger, I plead guilty to using images and videos without the express permission of the creators. I’ve linked to thousands of articles and blog posts. I like the idea of mashing up content from others with my own content.
But I don’t profit from my blog. I don’t sell advertising and my content is free for all to read.
Companies that curate for profit like Longform and Flipboard – no matter what their intentions are – are making money from the curation of content that others have paid to have created.
The argument used by content curators is that they are pushing traffic back to the original sources. This traffic, they argue, is a stream of revenue for the content creations. No doubt content creations want traffic – they want their content to reach larger audiences. However, it doesn’t explain why the curators themselves should be profiting from the content.
Content curators also argue that they are mining free content from the internet – displaying content that creators have decided to put out on the web for free. They say they are doing exactly what search engines do – helping people find and discover content. But this still doesn’t explain why they have the right profit from this content.
The explosion of information on the Internet has been a boom for technology companies that provide the platforms, search capabilities, and wonderful designs, but terrible on people who actually pay for or create the content. They very often lose money – or make less as the technology and platform companies divvy up what used to be theirs.
This is why many publishers are returning to dreaded paywalls – a last-ditch effort to keep control and profit from their own content. Their criticized for this with the cries of content wanting, needing to be free and told “Hey, stop complaining because it’s a new online world so get used to it.”
Amazingly, most publishers and content creators grin and bear it. Dancing at their own funerals.
What do you think needs to happen? The model out there now is clearly broken so how can it be fixed? What do you think of content curators who profit from other people’s content?