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End of Contributed Content is Near

Legal efforts by major technology companies are removing all incentives for reputable publishers to run contributed content. But will anyone care?

I suspect few readers will find content and copyright issues of much interest. Still, the changes taking place behind the scenes are so dramatic that they will markedly decrease the value of future contributed content. Here’s why.

Over the last couple of years, I have witnessed trends by many corporate legal departments that will force publishers to abandon the publication of contributed articles – except perhaps from selected advertisers.

Although these efforts vary slightly from company to company, the gist of the push by corporate legal departments is toward the following:

  1.  Deny copyright transfers. Some (not all) will replace transfers with a limited-time license agreement.
  2.  Deny any citations to publishers, i.e., any indication that a publisher actually published the content.
  3.  Deny author rights to post author prepared material.
  4.  Remove indemnification of the publisher.

Let me focus on the first two changes, since they have a direct impact on the value of contributed content to a publisher.

Provision #1: “Deny copyright transfers …”

Companies will argue that they shouldn’t have to transfer the copyright of any material that they create. Unfortunately, many companies have made deep cuts to their editorial budgets. Often, this means that the company’s editorial content is of such poor quality that it needs additional work by the publisher to prepare it for publishing, e.g. technical and grammatical editing – not to mention creation, resolution issues, layout, etc.

Traditionally, publishers recoup some of these costs from reprints and the repurposing of copyright material. If copyright transfer is denied, than a publisher may have no way to justify the cost of running contributed stories.

Many companies are pushing to replace copyright transfers of contributed content with limited-time licensing agreements. What will it mean to a publisher who has exclusive access to the content for only three months? Will the publisher be able to recoup their costs in that limited amount of time? Does the move from copyright to licensing even make sense for editorial intellectual property (IP)?

Such licensing agreements will quickly decrease the value of contributed content. After the license time period is reached (say, three-months), the company will merely strike-up a similar agreement with a competing publisher to run the same content for another 3 months. Reader’s quickly catch on to such schemes and will punish the publisher for running already-published content.

Will publishers need to start indicating how much of a contribute piece contains new material? (“Read today’s latest article – Now with 35% new and (maybe) original content!”)

Provision #2: “Deny any citations …”

No acknowledgment will be given to the publisher of the content. There will be no link-back to the publisher’s site, which greatly diminishes any search engine optimization (SEO) return from cross-linking of content. Again, this will result in yet another loss for the publisher.

Why should any reputable publisher engage with companies for contributed pieces with no guarantee of copyright or citation? The only advantage might be if the company is also an advertiser with the publisher. In that case, the publisher is effectively acting as the editorial arm of the company. While not necessarily a bad thing, this does represent a departure from the business model of the past.

 

2 Responses to “End of Contributed Content is Near”

  1. Lou Covey Says:

    Fascinating take, John. Didn’t know that was happening. I would imagine that as soon as smaller companies realize they can supplant major players on the pages of publications (because they don’t push this issue) the major players will drop their requirements.

    I remember a little over a decade ago when the CEOs of three large corporations said they were going to cut their advertising budgets to reduce page counts in the publications and squeeze out the start-ups from coverage (“We’re tired of financing their marketing programs,” was the reasoning.) That move actually opened the floodgates for contributed-article marketing programs as publications had to cut back staff, but pages still needed content.

    If this is their next move to curtail competitive discussion in the media, I imagine it will backfire on them as well.

    Business models are changing however, for everyone and it will be up to the reader to differentiate between what is real information and what is marketing spin.

  2. Geoffrey James Says:

    John,
    I’m sure you remember me from a few years back. In addition to writing for you, I was the regular EDA columnist for Electronic Business and wrote many features for them, as well as numerous other magazines.
    Since then I’ve launched a very popular blog (3-4 million pageviews a month) about sales and marketing for Inc.com. One of the reasons that blog has become so popular is that I’m about the only independent blogger on the subject.
    Because I’m not hawking sales training or marketing consulting, readers trust me to give them the “straight scoop.” I believe that it’s going to be credibility (meaning independence) that creates enough value to drive traffic.
    Of course, there is a wrinkle. I’m paid (and quite well) to blog, which works because the subject matter is so “horizontal” that there’s a huge potential readership. And Inc.com has salespeople who sell advertising (whom I’ve never met).
    I suspect that something of this sort will need to emerge in the electronics business–an independent voice that talks about industry issues but is beholden to nobody.
    Geoffrey

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