Aside from the past couple of rants about web analytics, here are a few other takes on the issue from bigger thinkers than me:
The Online Journalism review takes a look at all of the possible web analytics out there to explain what is what – and what could possibly be the best measure for engagement. One they don’t discuss much is time on site – which I think is one of the best true measures of engagement on a piece-by-piece basis.
On the flip side, the Nieman Lab says that web analytics make us as an industry overexaggerate the importance of the online audience compared to the print audience. I don’t really agree with the methodology, but it certainly makes a case for print getting more money from advertisers.
Aside from my little rant abut page views yesterday, there are far more reasons to seek another way to engage online audiences for the good of the overall product.
Eat Sleep Publish really lays out a great case against page view-driven news value. The author, Jason Preston, suggests page view goals create a conflict of interest for news managers. As a daily online news manager for a metro news site, I can see where he’s coming from.
He notes that the overall value of a story to many news organization lies in how many page views it receives online. When everyone’s competing to not be the next laid off, it’s only natural for a reporter to write in such a way to get page views or for an editor to arrange placement for a story based on how many page views they think it might get (as opposed to its actual news value). The latter, I’ll admit, happens all of the time.
Does this make us, the newsroom types, in the employ of advertisers? Sure, we may not know who they are exactly – but does it represent a bias to push for them to make more off of ad impressions? Very intriguing food for thought. I’d be interested in hearing more opinions on this, people.
The Nieman Lab blog obtained a copy of the AP’s latest plan to preserve it’s aging business model. The name – “Protect, Point, Pay — An Associated Press Plan for Reclaiming News Content Online” – sort of says it all (for better or for worse).
The plan is to withhold some of it’s content from it’s wire and other means of distribution, instead forcing member sites to link to the content on an AP site. So…the AP is seeking to compete with its member sites for online traffic? Wha?
The AP plan differentiates between “utility” content and “unique” content when deciding what to keep on this centralized site and what to distribute for member use. The AP’s lawyer seemed to define “utility” content as the AP’s usual offerings of traditional news feeds. The “unique” content, I’d think, would be their supplemental interactive graphics, galleries and non-daily news features from AP staff.
While I can appreciate that the AP is at least thinking 21st century on this latest scheme, it begs the question: What exactly are AP members paying for, anyway? Member-owners subscribe to the AP precisely because we want to use this content on our sites specifically to get page views and sell our own ads around it. If AP members have to send that traffic off site – why even pay the huge AP membership fees in the first place? We can give traffic away for free.
In addition to that obvious question, the plan prompts many more alarm bells.
Steve Buttry says the AP seems to be off on the wrong foot from the get-go with this name about the name:
[It] uses two words that reflect the dangerous thinking that plagues way too much of our industry today: The focus on protection of a declining model rather than development of a new, prosperous model and the stubborn denial of all evidence that paid content is not the path to a prosperous model.
Secondly, on this business of unique vs utility content, Buttry and others ask how this distinction will be made and if member-contributed content will be “protected” too. After all, so much of the AP’s state and local feeds seem to be from member papers’ reporting, not that of local AP staffers.
Thirdly – a Nieman commenter asks how will all of this work in terms of search engine optimization? The AP seems to be hoping these outside links will provide all the SEO they’ll need – but these stories aren’t on all the various member sites themselves – how much will the AP content fall in SEO rankings?
I’m sure there’ll be a lot more info out about this in the coming days and weeks and maybe I’ll feel better about it. Right now, despite what their people may say, the AP seems to be looking for a fight with it couldn’t possibly win.
David Marburger took his show on the road this week with a much-emailed guest editorial in the LA Times titled “The free ride that’s killing the news business” (again with the hostile wording). Of course, I got this emailed to be from no less than 20 fellow journalists, all of whom seemed to not understand the online news business at large. He’s preaching to the choir of the same “stay the course” news people who got us here in the first place – and they love it.
Marburger tells and retells the story of the Little Red Hen in all of his appearances. Have you read it yet?
Remember the Little Red Hen? She’s the one in the folk tale who asks the other barnyard animals if they will help her cut the wheat, grind it into flour and bake the bread. They refuse. But when the warm bread emerges from the oven, they are eager to help the hen eat it.
Now let’s suppose the story continues, with the Little Red Hen opening a roadside stand to sell her bread. Instead of merely eating it themselves, the cow, the pig and the dog each take some of her loaves and open competing roadside stands. Vying for sales, they undercut her price and each others’. Because the Little Red Hen bore all the costs to produce the bread, and the other animals bore none, she can’t afford to match their prices, and they drive her out of business.
Newspaper sites are supposed to be the hen. He likens aggregator sites like Newser.com to the other animals.
To anyone that isn’t in the news business, this sounds pretty acceptable. After all, isn’t the point of competition in a free market supposed to mean that you try to undersell your competition by having a lower overhead? It’s called good business. Too bad for the Little Red Hen – maybe she should become a manufacturer or wholesaler instead of a shop owner.
To whose that aren’t familiar, Newser.com is a worldwide wholesaler of other people’s news, in a sense. They summarize stories from many news sources in a paragraph or so and link back to the original story. As you can see here, they state on each summary where the source is and link to it. Sure, it could stand to be more prominent, but it’s better than what TV does every day. (It should also be pointed out that site looks dreadful and isn’t very user-friendly)
Marburger claims that sites like Newser are “free riding” on newspapers and it should be illegal. From the poll on the editorial, which asks “Should websites be allowed to use excerpts from daily news sites?” the populace doesn’t agree (it’s 68% against the Marburger plan, 32% for it as I write).
The basis for the Marburger argument is that sites like Newser are driving down online advertising rates because they aggregate content and surround it with low-priced ads. He calls them “competitors”. He says they are “direct substitutes for newspapers”.
First of all, if your story can be summarized in a paragraph and that’s honestly enough for a casual reader to know about it – it probably isn’t worth fighting about. Secondly, Newser isn’t a competitor with the newspaper websites it links to. A quick look at Alexa shows how their traffic compares to the likes of the two Times, Tribune and Guardian:
Newser ranks way, way below the big news sites in terms of page views.
While I agree that advertising is the issue – it isn’t the fault of aggregators. It’s that the entire business model for online advertising is broken. As Bill Grueskin said last month in an excellent paidContent analysis, “Aggregators are more a distraction from the real crisis than the cause of it” because even if they are siphoning off users (of course, they also refer users), it isn’t really hurting the bottom line.
Online ad rates have been artificially low for years. We’re partly to blame – after all, most newspaper have been online since the 90s and we never charged for online ads what they are worth. Furthermore, the online audience doesn’t like and doesn’t see value in online ads. They block them, they don’t click on them, they HATE them.
CPMs are so low that thousands upon thousands of views to our site today won’t even buy lunch for our newsroom, let alone sustain the industry. Grueskin says what a lot of us in online news have been whispering for years – why are we measuring our worth in page views anyway? We should be using metrics like page views per user or time on site rather than by the number of people visiting the site, “many of whom may not assign any value to the journalists who generated the content”.
In other words, better understand the audience, seek out what it wants, determine what we can provide – possibly in terms of a premium service – and find a way to monetize that outside of online ads. That’s something an operation like Newser could never do and it actually provides a sustainable plan for future growth. Crazy, I know.
So why do we have to keep giving face time to David Marburger and his ilk of “stay the course” followers who want to legislate their way out of an adaptation of the business model. Let’s get to the task at hand…
It sort of says, “Please, send my reporters’ stories to Digg where they can use it to get more web traffic at our expense. I’m OK with getting nothing in return, after all, my company is only under Chapter 11 right now. I’m sure I can spare it.”
Digg.com has been into more shenanigans – prompting this content provider to ask: Have they gone too far? And if so – why do we in online media continue to support them?
On Monday, Mashable confirmed that Digg surreptitiously changed the behavior of its short URLs in a fashion that diverts web traffic intended for content publishers’ sites to Digg.com.
The move has the social web in an uproar – and should have media websites shaking in their boots. It seems that social media site many of us in online news have taken to caring and feeding with the content that makes it so popular has turned on us in a big way.
Digg URLs are/were very popular with users of Twitter and other microblog services wishing to share links. Then, without alerting its users, Digg has made it so those shortened external links no longer go to that great blog entry or article you wanted to share – but rather it links to directly to Digg.com. Do not pass go, do not collect your page views. In short, the Digg URLs are not shortned URLs at all, but rather a Digg-exclusive traffic driver.
Only tonight has Digg at least somewhat rolled back this change to restore previously used Digg URLs to their original destinations. Even so – they intend to go forward with the traffic diversion plan despite the outcry from users.
I suppose we in online news should have seen this coming. It wasn’t the first sign of aggression from Digg. I’d say Digg has more than proven that it is a direct threat to content publishers – so why are we still supporting it? Oh, you didn’t know you were supporting Digg? Better take a look at your site.
Check out the articles, blogs, photos and any other content you create. Chances are, there is some method for sharing that content online with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Delicious and, yes, Digg. Sometimes that is a button that says Digg, other times it may be a service like the ShareThis button you see on this blog.
See, at one time, Digg was a real boon for online publishers. If your story was popular on Digg, the influx of page views coming from its army of users could be staggering. We wanted everything to be on Digg. In fact, we made it as easy as possible to get our content listed on their site by making these links as prominent as possible.
But it turns out in doing all that reaching out – we contributed to the creation of the very bully who’s stealing publishers’ lunch money. Even though it might not make much of a difference, we in the online news biz need to take back our tiny corners of the web and at least remove Digg from our pages.
Aside: I know I seem like a hypocrite calling for this, being that I haven’t figured out what to do with my own blog yet, but bear with me.
I’ll fight with online naysayers ’til the cows come home about aggregators and Google – but Digg is a credible threat. It’s time to let them go. Besides, if your site is like that of my employer – they are a drop in the bucket compared to Twitter and Facebook these days anyway. Good riddance.
These are my recommended links for June 15th through June 17th:
Xark!: The betrayal of the Fourth Estate – It’s a rather bitter and angry screed about journalism, but it has some good links in there that are of note to those interested in the less-discussed parts of the industry…
Las Vegas Newspaper Subpoenaed to Reveal Commenters’ Identities – If you haven’t heard about this yet – it is only the beginning. We’ve heard lots of rumblings at the local level about going to court to find out who our commenters are, but it hasn’t reached this point yet. Problem is, many systems (like ours) don’t record the info the plaintiffs seek anyway.
How Journalists Use Facebook | About – Some good ideas for how journalists can use Facebook. One note: You don’t have to close off and make FB exclusively for work or personal content – they have plenty of options to filter your data to have the best of both worlds.
When Digg released its Diggbar a couple of weeks ago, I had a “Where’s the outrage?” post all ready to go. Now I’m cautiously optimistic it isn’t the end of the world (so I’m glad I never hit ‘publish’) – though I’m very much on edge.
Digg, as most people know, is a social bookmarking site and social hub that is an unbeatable traffic driver for news content sites. People share, rate and comment on news stories (among other links) and thus, visit your site when you’re “dugg”.
A couple of weeks ago, Digg launched the Diggbar, which makes it easy for Digg users to shorten and post links to Digg, as well as jump from story to story within the Digg umbrella. The big WTF moment, came when we all noticed that all of Digg’s links no longer went to the original content providers’ sites, but rather linked back to Digg. When you’d click the link on a story on the Digg site, it wouldn’t go to the story directly, but would open the page inside of an iframe at Digg’s site. Oh, crap.
At that time, TechCrunch noted that this would not affect most content providers’ web analytics and advertising displays, though it could impact the original source’s ranking in Comscore, Google and more. This had this news website editor weeping for the death of linkbait – and wondering when we’d begin to discourage our users from Digging our stories.
But maybe I was all worried for nothing. Last week, Digg set out to dispel the rumors of their alleged thievery, assuring we naysayers in the publishing world that their new gadget wouldn’t hurt us in SEO rankings, traffic and analytics. As Digg’s John Quinn put it, “Digg continues to have a symbiotic relationship with content publishers, and we anticipate these ongoing improvements will only enhance publisher traffic as more people discover and share content on Digg.”
Don’t get too relieved just yet. Mashable notes that when perusing Digg, users now have to click twice to see the real link (or three times if they read Digg in an RSS reader). This may lead to even more proliferation of Digg links over original links if readers opt to go the easy route and just use those shortened Digg links in their blogs and social media tools. Also, despite their claims, Digg URLs are showing up in Google and goofing up our SEO.
This has led some content providers to block the Diggbar. Engadget, for once, decided to block it last Friday, stating, “We believe that the work of content creators should be protected and treated as the unique product that it is, and that an end-user’s experience shouldn’t be tainted with a “catch-all” tool which diminishes context.”
Mashable weighed in over the weekend with the pros and cons of the Diggbar. The biggest pro, of course, is increased site traffic from eager Diggers…but it may not outweigh the cost of the impact on SEO. I suggest you take a read before you get fired up and ready to call your programmers.
In short, the jury is out. I expect to see more hubbub as the Diggbar becomes more and more popular. And Digg isn’t alone, Facebook is already redirecting traffic back to itself from your shared links. StumbleUpon is soon to follow. There may be a battle brewing between social media sites and news websites over these new tactics – so stay tuned.
Recommended reading for June 16th – 17th
On June 17, 2009
In Recommended Links
These are my recommended links for June 15th through June 17th: