Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gatehouse sues NYTCo (Boston.com) over aggregation: But do they have a point?

Things have been buzzing over here about the news that Gatehouse has sued NYTCo, the parent company of Boston.com, for aggregating headlines its headlines on Boston.com's new hyperlocal sites....

Now, in hyperlocal-land, getting aggregated is a good thing--(theoretically)it's supposed to drive traffic to the smaller, lower ranked site. But is that always the case--and is it the case in the Boston media landscape? I put in a call to my good friend Dan Kennedy, who is perhaps the *one* guy who really knows the Boston newspaper scene. In his post "How the Gatehouse Suit Looks from Both Sides", Dan looks at both sides of the situation. I would suggest to anyone reading this that they go directly to Dan's post, which is full of a number of important links....<Update Dan adds more resources in this post from 12/24/08)

However, here's a few insights I gained from my conversation with Dan: even though Gatehouse's viewpoint may be arguing from a point of weakness, maybe they have a point when it comes to which pages Boston.com uses Gatehouse headlines. Dan explained to me that Newton, the first page Boston.com launched their hyperlocal initiative, is chock full of hyperlocal media. So, Boston.com has a number of resources to aggregate content from. However, when it comes to a place like Waltham, Dan explained, all Waltham has is Gatehouse's content. So, what ends up on Boston.com's page is all Gatehouse headlines. That, IMO, isn't so great. From the position of someone who's interested in the diversity of the local media landscape, if I go to a site and see headlines from *only* one or two major media sources (as I'm likely to see on many of the Topix.com pages) I find the site a waste of my time. If all I'm getting are the headlines from other mainstream sites, then either someone at the aggregator isn't doing their job, or the region has nothing to offer me but msm content. So, why should one paper be the one-stop-shopping site for all the msm content in one region?? If one major paper wants to be the one-stop-shopping site, then aggregation isn't about revealing anything or being a guide, it's potentially a land-grab for ad dollars.

What Boston.com *should* do is aggregate in areas that are content-rich--not just roll out whatever they feel like rolling out for whatever reason. By not aggregating in areas that are content rich, it is not acting as a guide to local media--which I believe is the reason for their hyperlocal pages (IMO, they're a dumb idea anyway, as I feel the hyperlocal aggregation should be done by other hyperlocals...just call me a purist...)

Boston.com also may want to re-think selling ads against aggregated content. Yes, I work for Placeblogger.com, which is an aggregation site--but we do not sell ads. We are trying to figure out a revenue model that won't rely on ads against aggregated headlines. However, two other hyperlocal aggregation sites, BlogNetNews and Outside.In, have ads against their aggregated hyperlocal headlines. (BNN also offers a widget--which may end up sending pageviews back to the BNN site rather than to the blog where the headline resides. Don't know for sure.)

Still, Gatehouse's case may have a "chilling effect" on aggregation sites overall--including news review sites like NewsTrust.net , Digg, and any other site that might want to share news with others and be supported by something other than grants or V.C. money. It may end up that, unless a site is willing to forego making money, or that it comes up with some other way to make money than by selling ads against other aggregated content, then shared-news sites and other aggregators (sadly) might not be long for this world.

Update: Check out Danny Sanchez's post that gives a view from the tech side of the newspaper.