This article from TPM crossed my radar from several sources, and I’ve been chewing on it for a few days now. The basic thrust of the article is that services like Flipboard are bad for publishers because it allows people to consume content without going to the website of the content creator. This leads to convenience for the reader and a lack of page views for the website.
Under current monetization strategies, content creators need to sell demographics and numbers of page views to advertisers. Here was the pertinent quote from the article:
That audience has nothing to do with us as a healthy news operation. We have no relationship with you. We don’t know about you in terms of how often you visit. When we tell advertisers how many people read our stuff we can’t include you in the number because we don’t know about you and really why would they care since ads we run don’t appear there. Most of all there’s no revenue stream tied to your readership.
I had several problems with the article, the first being the use of “scam.” Josh Marshall, the author of the piece flips back and forth on his own use of the word. Early in the article, he says the word might be too harsh, but he ends by repeating that Flipboard and similar aggregators are scams.
I think “scam” was used as link bait. According to the Free Dictionary, a “scam” is “A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle.”
Flipboard is neither fraudulent nor a swindle. It’s a service to aggregate content. It might not be a good deal for publishers under current monetization strategies, but that’s not fraudulent. (Hold that thought on “current monetization strategies.” I’m going to come back to that in a minute.) Here’s the relevant section of Flipboard’s FAQ for publishers:
We use social media to grow your audience by sharing your content with Flipboard users, who then share it with their friends. Flipboard provides a platform for deep content engagement across a growing audience of social influencers and enthusiastic readers. Our readers make over 10 million social recommendations a month via the app to their friends.
Based on what I know of Flipboard, that’s all true. So not a scam.
My other issue with the article is the attitude toward readers of content:
Now, for individual readers I get that this is a bummer. And I don’t like the fact that we’re inconveniencing individual people. At some level this may also make me and ‘us’ sound terribly mercenary: anyone who reads has to be sending us some revenue stream, either via ads or subscriptions or by helping us leverage one of those first two.
Yes, I do think it sounds mercenary, and, as a reader, I feel as if I only have value to TPM if I do exactly what they want me to. I am in marketing, so I certainly understand needing revenue and creating good campaigns with effective calls to action. I completely support a company’s need to make money. But you don’t make money if you piss off your customers and make them feel unappreciated. TPM has done a good job of that.
So back to “current monetization strategies.” Seems to me that publishers need to rethink how they make money. If a content creator gave me a good reason to visit their site, I’m sure I’d stop by. So let me consume content through some medium like Flipboard and then include compelling calls to action to get me to visit your site. How about more in-depth coverage of a subject? Or an ebook? Or a video?
Come on, guys, get a bit creative. Use Flipboard to introduce me to your content and then make it attractive for me to come to you and give you the page views and ad revenue you’re looking for. Allow me to consume content the way I want and add so much value that I give you what you want in return.