On Wednesday when we met, we spoke briefly of aggregators and how sites like HuffingtonPost do not produce content, but rather collect and organize content and build a brand around that. As someone who is unaccustomed to thinking about the nature of sites and their various categorizations, an aggregator seemed like a smart, but lazy way to produce news as it appears to involve minimal investment in contributors while garnering huge returns. My initial assessments of this model had not taken into account the physical, digital and personnel infrastructure and acquisitions required to create an all-item retailer giant like Amazon.
After our brief introduction to this idea, I wondered how or if there was any way these aggregating behemoths might expand. Digging around, I found an article on Teleread.com calling for “an Amazon for newspapers.” In this article, Joanna Cabot outlines current issues with digital news identical to the ones we discussed in class including the increase of paywalls and issues of discoverability within the news industry. As of yet, many people are not used to or interested in paying for online news. Because it has been free to consume, many feel it should continue to be that way. This model, of course, is unsustainable and subject to change and we are beginning to feel the effects. YouTube, once advertisement free, now generates enough revenue for contributors to support themselves through this medium alone. Parallel to this, more newspapers are implementing a system through which a viewer may have a few free views before prompting site subscriptions.
Cabot suggests that Google should identify these payment obstacles while consumers browse so that we could be more mindful of the price of the news we consume. Alternately, she recommends that we incorporate news into a comprehensive aggregator like Amazon. It is a simple, but brilliant idea and easily imaginable. We could quickly sort through thousands of newspapers and articles by corporation, topic, locality and price.
She speculates that this would allow for centralized, monetized organization and subscription services whereby we could pay a single subscription to access articles from many news corporations at once. When subscriptions are easier to pay and more comprehensive, people are more likely to buy in. This sounds like a win-win for users and contributors alike, but even this proposal has holes.
This optimistic call-to-action brings out the conspiracist in me. The centralization of news sources, while more manageable for news consumers and potentially more lucrative for newsmakers, could also fall victim to the Google search phenomenon whereby the sources are placed not only by their popularity and relevance, but also payment to Google. This is already an issue, but an Amazon for newspapers would not solve it. It costs money to be in the first three results of a search because the traffic it will bring is well worth the cost. For small papers who can’t afford that investment, they fall to later pages. In my mind, it could even further the gap between large well-known papers and local rags. Perhaps the implementation of search cues like “local” could help mindful consumers close the gap, but I’m not sold that this will resolve the issue of discoverability.
Cabot, Joanna. “Why we need an Amazon for newspapers.” Teleread. September 7, 2016. Accessed September 9, 2016.