Well, it’s been very quiet around here, but let’s kick things off again with an insightful post from from my ex-boss on the subject of content providers and aggregators, and the fact that economic value isn’t flowing from one to another in a consistent, logical way:
What we need is a swift, easy and unpunitive licensing structure to allow content creators to distribute content; and for aggregators to aggregate – with value to each fairly represented.
Unworkable? Well, actually, this model has been cracked before. It’s how record labels deal with radio stations – through a centralised rights agency. If we start to think of our stories as songs, our feeds as albums, and the new wave of aggregators as radio stations, you can sort of see how it makes sense. And, yes, it all started out in exactly the same “we need you more than you need us” kind of way – and has matured. Yes, people will still jockey for position, but the underlying commercial relationship is taken care of elsewhere.
Simon goes on to fairly outline the possible objections to this model, but I fear he misses an obvious one: the reason these aggregation services are springing up is the presence of a standard, RSS, which makes it easy for anyone – an individual or a company – to take content from someone supplying a feed and do things with it. Any amount of terms of service isn’t going to stop that single fact: if content is made available in a standard, people will do things with it. The radio licensing model depended on there being scarcity of spectrum, meaning scarcity of outlets, meaning the possibility of some kind of regulation or policing of the environment. No such scarcity exists online.
Which isn’t to say Simon’s idea won’t fly – in lots of ways, it’s the only way this is going to work for content providers and aggregators. But until we deal with this “problem” of open standards and lack of scarcity, any model based on licensing and policing is going to be really hard to implement.