Respect your customers: Commentary on the AP license model

apggAs many of you have probably heard, the Associated Press (AP) expects not only to be paid when substantial parts or all of its content is being reused but even when you quote a headline and link back to them.

I understand where the AP is coming from: they make their money from news – unlike newspapers who make their money from advertisement – and they are afraid that they are losing their business. At the same time people aren’t willing to pay for news – but producing news is expensive.

What annoys me is that by trying to save their revenue stream, they completely overshot their target and now have to explain and backpaddle while suffering the ridicule of many colleagues, potential and current customers. What remains is the impression of a desperate company that is grasping straws in an attempt to stay afloat.

Five words cost $12.50 – but a whole article is free?

The sad thing is that by demanding that people pay for a headline and link, the really interesting part of the license model was completely lost: you can use AP articles on your web site or blog for free as long as you use the whole article and include AP ads. Alternatively, you can pay and use the article without advertisement.

In fact, AP is using the same company (iCopyright) to manage their content as Reuters. And when Reuters did it, it was applauded as an important step into the right direction. The difference: AP is expecting to be paid for excerpts (5 words cost USD 12.50) whereas Reuters doesn’t. Instead, Reuters reminds people to observe fair-use criteria and links to an explanation of what “fair use” means. That explanation is carefully worded to suggest that, if in doubt, you should always get a license.

A question of respect

What this demonstrates to me is how even showing a minimum of respect for the people whose money you want can make a huge difference. Whereas AP apparently perceives most bloggers and website owners as thieving profiteers who cannot be trusted, Reuters appeals to their judgement and fairness, which doesn’t mean that Reuters wouldn’t sue if you stole their content. The result: Reuters is seen as a pioneer, AP as a dinosaur who doesn’t get it.

Some information in the interest of full disclosure:

  • I have worked for two wire services in the past, dpa and ddp, and I fully expected to be paid for my work
  • I built the first web site for AP Germany
  • I once found out that a ten-page feature of mine had been copied in full and put on a web site with Google Ads left and right of it. I was absolutely furious and threatened to sue the guy who had done so. However, in the end, I was too lazy and since this was some poor student I figured that he probably learned his lesson.

Related links:

What do you think about the AP license model? Leave a comment and tell me!