Wednesday, May 09, 2007

AP a la carte (sort of)

AP President Tom Curley's state of the wire service speech is worth reading again this year as he utters the phrase that for so long struck fear into the hearts of AP managers everywhere -- a la carte.

Curley, pushing ahead with his eAP initiative, puts it this way:
We propose repackaging AP text services to enable access to all AP breaking news regardless of geography. Corpus Christi, for instance, could monitor what’s happening on the other side of the Gulf in Tampa-St. Petersburg without paying extra. Or a newspaper in a riverboat casino town could monitor the gambling industry across the country. Or the cornbelt interests could keep up with ethanol and energy issues from anywhere.

Members would continue to have add-on choices to fit unique publication needs beyond the core report. AP photos and produced online services would remain optional services that members can add as needed. Members who want deeper content beyond the breaking news core report, also could choose from an analysis category and premium tiers of business, sports, lifestyle and entertainment categories.

We also will enable a la carte sales of stories and photos so members have greater flexibility to buy just what they need, when they need it, on top of their core report and other content subscriptions.

AP is developing an infrastructure to create a central database of member content that can handle member-to-member exchange or sharing of local content. Members and others will be able to use AP’s technical infrastructure to share content in a way they define and control – within a state, within a group, or more broadly with other AP members.
Most interesting, as a film character of another era would have put it. At first blush, the tendency is to wonder if this is the demise of the news cooperative and the state bureau system as it has been. I don't think so.
  • The AP still will sell a "core"service, and I think the valuable state wires will be part of that. What the wire service is trying to do, it seems to me, is goose sales a bit with the added a la carte options (ever notice how when you start ordering one from column A and one from B, etc., the total bill seems to grow larger than planned?).
  • The member-sharing service might actually have a left-handed benefit for the AP if structured so that AP could, with permission, use copy from the sharing database. This might ease some of the hassles AP now has in trying to get timely feeds of stories from members. If it structures the contracts so that it can honey-dip from the pot, at least at critical moments, it could be useful. (This kind of sharing actually is not new. AP had a rudimentary system for a few chains in previous years. And a well-equipped AP news editor or bureau chief usually had the codes necessary to at least see what stories were passing on that channel. But one never, ever used those stories until they turned up in the "electronic carbon" from the member.)

Of more intriguing interest is this from Curley:
We can achieve great efficiencies by building shared Web services that address common needs.

In the end, competition should flourish, but we won’t be competing against ourselves to create basic capabilities that all can use to build their digital businesses.

This is a dream many have had in recent years, and it can become a reality, at least in the area of digital content management. And that means we won’t have to rely on distributors – like the search giants – for more than distribution. Indeed, restoring control over the news content will be the overarching principle that drives our efforts.
Hmmm, now that sounds like dropping the gauntlet on the Googles and Yahoos of the world. I'm fascinated by how Curley sees the industry being able to reassert its control over content since once it hits a Web site digitized, it's pretty much fair game for the robots and spiders. Does Curley envision a world where news sites invoke a bunch of Robots.txt blocks as the Washington Post already does, for instance, and then try to use this system to somehow control search? It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.



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