NewsNow is something of a British success story. Launched in 1998, during that first phase of internet entrepreneurship, it is the country’s leading news aggregator and the UK’s answer to Google News.
It currently accounts for 20 per cent of the market.
Set up by two technology journalists, Nick Gilbert and Struan Bartlett (declaration of interest: both former colleagues), it is proof that not all of us watch from the sidelines. Some get stuck in.
But now the NewsNow business model is under fire. The company has been threatened with legal action if it does not change the way it does business or cease from linking altogether.
In an open letter to national and regional newspapers – a number of whom have NewsNow in their sights – Bartlett called on them to end these “indiscriminate attacks”.
In the letter, widely circulated on Twitter yesterday, he wrote:
We don’t redistribute your web pages to anyone. We operate within the law, and we don’t do you any harm.
Far from it. We deliver you traffic and drive you revenues you otherwise wouldn’t have received. The idea that we are undermining your businesses is incorrect. It is fanciful to imagine that, if it weren’t for link aggregators, you would have more traffic or revenues. We provide a service that you do not: a means for readers to find your content more readily, via continuously updating links to a diversity of websites.
The truth is, if anything, it is the growth of the Internet itself — not link aggregation — that has undermined your businesses by destroying the virtual monopoly that you once held over the mass distribution of written news.
Which seems about the sum of it.
I’ve yet to hear a really effective case made against aggregators. From publishers, at least.
I can understand why those who make their money from syndication – step forward the Associated Press – are unhappy. Aggregation, formally through the likes of Google News and News Now or informally via social media, is the new syndication.
That’s why AP has led the fight.
Here’s what we know – aggregators drive traffic.
We can argue, as many publishers are doing, about the value of these passing eye-balls, but asking whether we need NewsNow and co. to deliver this transient traffic is not the same as declaring them harmful. And it is a very long way from proving that without these apparent parasites, revenue would be up, up, up.
Good luck, NewsNow.