Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bloggers Huff And Puff Over Arianna’s Millions

HuffPo Front PageTHE NEWS that Arianna Huffington will be pocketing around $100 million from the $315 million that AOL will be paying for her news aggregation site, the Huffington Post, will be accompanied by some resentment from the Bloggers whose free labour has served to create her financial fortune. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find much sympathy for those whom place so little value upon their work.

Exploitation is alive and well on the Internet - and traditional vanity publishers now offer their web-based facilities, with a new twist, under the less offending title of ‘news aggregators.’ Rather than charge failed writers to publish their own unwanted works, the modern ploy is to provide a means for Bloggers to have their work appear on sites sporting a newspaper-like title, and purporting to provide fresh news – for free.

Needless to say: no qualifications are necessary.

It is an interesting business model. Based upon writer vanity, aggregator Websites have the advantage of an immediate audience – the writers (and their families) themselves. Not only do they visit those sites to see their own work in print: they also investigate what other contributors have written to obtain clues about writing their next submissions – increasing the reader statistics still further.

Most Bloggers find it difficult to establish a reader base in the early days; but sites like HuffPo have theirs ready-made. All the model needs to succeed is a large number of compliant writers and a means of refreshing articles to ensure the Web’s search bots always find fresh content on their visits.

A high search engine ranking is almost guaranteed; increased visits assured - and advertising revenue is certain.

For the site’s owner, as Arianna has found, it is almost too good to be true. And it seems that AOL agrees with her sentiment – to the tune of over $300 million.

The price paid gives a new twist to the term, ‘Land of the Free.’

What is notable about the Huffington Post is that it actually appears to carry little advertising ‘below the fold.’ That is, until you examine the site’s article summaries making up its main navigation column, which is interspersed with sponsorship ads and the inevitable advertorials posing as articles. But, perhaps the most interesting thing about HuffPo, which projects itself as an online newspaper, is that it contains no real news – just comment upon what real journalists have reported in traditional titles elsewhere.

Serious independent analysis is not something that HuffPo carries – and that is borne out by the huge number of individual comments (often over a thousand) that its articles attract.

Its house-style is chatty – and that too encourages reader comments.

Huffington Post sourcesHuffPo is certainly a financial success story; but serious journalism it is not. The site does not break news; nor does it undertake any investigative journalism to add to the vast pool of professionally sourced material (inset) upon which its own articles draw.

It takes from; but does not give to, the journalistic community. Little wonder, therefore, that many serious newspapers are now installing their own costly material behind pay-walls to protect their intellectual property from the internet’s news aggregators.

America On Line, it appears, is still following the trail of its dubious Time Warner purchase with HuffPo’s acquisition. If, as is widely predicted, Arianna’s exploited Bloggers leave in their droves, AOL will be left with a lame duck and no other option but to offer contributors some form of monetary incentive to continue their labours. However, that remuneration is unlikely to be anything like that which can be achieved commercially.

Over the last ten years we have seen the rise of Internet based Photo Libraries that offer contributors very little rewards for providing stock photographs (another form of Internet exploitation) aimed at undercutting traditional agencies. Now print is coming under a similar attack by the news aggregators whom have no regard for intellectual value.

Perhaps it is time for the news industry to consider banding together to form a pro-active international copyright protection agency, similar to that enjoyed by the music sector. It is all very well for lone Bloggers to be permitted to expand and analyse others’ articles to add to the public record; but organisations like HuffPo, and its purchaser AOL, are really taking the proverbial p***.

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