Content Aggregation: A Win-Win for Publishers?
Go to AccuWeather.com to find out if your town will see sun or clouds tomorrow, and below the local temperature, you’ll see local news. This is not a case of meteorologists breaking into the journalism business; content (in the form of linked headlines) is provided by aggregator Topix.com, which uses a sophisticated algorithm to troll the Web for relevant articles. The material enriches the Web sites of Topix’s distribution partners, while the primary news source sees additional site traffic—a win-win for everybody, right? It depends. The New York Times Co. decided to do something similar with headlines and ledes from local newspapers published by GateHouse Media in the Boston suburbs. GateHouse sued for copyright and trademark infringement, and the matter was recently settled out of court, with The New York Times Co. agreeing to remove all GateHouse material captured by the company’s aggregation tool. “The legal disputes are emblematic of a larger question that has emerged from the Internet’s link economy,” noted a New York Times article.
Online content aggregation offers traditional publishers significant revenue potential, even a means to reinvent themselves as premium content providers to a vast pool of Web publishing ventures by licensing their content to others seeking to provide aggregated content online. How best to convert aggregation into a revenue strategy is still an open question, however, as are the more fundamental legal issues of what constitutes fair use.
The Aggregation Equation
Content aggregation exists in two forms: link-based, of which RSS feeds—essentially an automatic syndication tool that works with metadata tagging—are a well-known example; and those that aggregate full texts and live within secondary Web sites. The first includes those forms of aggregation featuring headlines and/or snippets of content, as with Topix. The second includes specialized information services such as Factiva, Bloomberg News and Nexis.