Robert Cauthorn, CityToolsRobert Cauthorn is the president of CityTools. Here he talks about why 'having a conversation with Google' and other rights recovery ideas are not the answer for newspapers wanting to get the best value out of news and classifieds.

It's not simply naïve to focus on rights recovery; it's counter productive and a waste of time. The cat is out of the bag and what you now have to do is think about how you are going to wrest control to your team, not relying on the courts for payment schemes or anything like that.

Change your business practices to address the new world.

Let's create a brand new product that is smarter than the existing products because no one is ever going to win and recover rights from Google. That's like saying you're going to monetise linking - it's unrealistic.

How are you going to say that they can't cut a link over? The same link that everyone else cuts on the internet? How do you go to Digg and say a reader has posted this as an interesting link but we don't want that traffic. It's crazy.

The entire web is based on linking, for heavens sake. If you have a big problem with that, it's probably best to just shut down your website because you fundamentally don't want to be on the web. That's one way to show Google who is boss!

Being on the web and whining about anyone linking to your content is like complaining about people talking about your content because it might suppress a sale if someone overhears the gist of a story. If you publish a book, you shouldn't start bitching about the existence of libraries. If you get on the web, you shouldn't start complaining about people linking to your content. Let's move on, shall we?

Besides, Google's response to the payment rights idea can easily be 'we should charge you for all the traffic we send you because you monetise that with advertising'.

The more interesting argument [for newspapers] would be to say 'let's create smart networks where we creatively combine our content with that of other publishers and the only place you can get that unique mix is on one of our member sites'.

Each one of those sites is then different based on its relationships - each one is special and designed specifically for its readers.

The challenge is whether newspapers understand what a big philosophical leap this is and what a substantial opportunity it presents.

Some media leaders don't think in these terms and the idea of sharing and working together might be scary. They want to do the business in the way it has been done for the past hundred years. Guess what, those days are past.

Let's roll this forward a year or two where a newspaper might belong to 10 or 15 distinct news networks and a couple of distinct classified networks. It would mean there would be a lot of foreign content flowing into the newspaper's website - all selected and organised by smart, modern editors in a smart, modern package.

What happens then is that these newspapers will start to develop a critical mass that can compete with Google.

They develop critical mass in a very interesting way because the majority of news is focused on the interests of the local market and what these individual newspapers are doing is making creative decisions on the content that is relevant to their readers.
Google gives you mass aggregation but it is also like a shotgun approach. It hits you with all sorts of stuff that does not matter to you.

If you spin the smart networks model forward, you can go to your local newspaper website and, because it has built smart relationships with other publishers, you get reliable content and the same kind of mass as Google. But the difference is it's all relevant to the local readership.

I believe this shift in the market place will take place in the mind of the consumer and the publisher because individual newspapers and individual readers can make the best decisions on what content is relevant to them.

This is the anti-commodification argument. It's saying that every newspaper becomes unique based on its relationships and its networks.

Instead of newspapers limiting themselves to their local content and the wire services, they move to a position where they have their local content and this incredibly rich mixture of content from all the different newspaper networks that they belong to as well as citizen journalism through a public interface.

When you get to this point, it starts to get very, very interesting because it's not something that has been visited before in the industry.

Of course, the readers win because they get better content that is more complete and more diverse. If we concentrate more fully on serving the readers, our advertisers win too. If our readers and our advertisers win, then we win as well, don't we?

Hand-wringing sessions on rights-recovery issues because of web linking divert our focus away from the reader and the advertiser, neither of whom cares one whit about the matter.

We're better off attending to the real job, telling the stories, collecting the stories, providing insight and entertainment and information and being paid for it by happy advertisers and happy readers. We can do our jobs in brave new ways in a brave new world, but to do so one must move forward, not in circles.

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