While Congress debates how to save the newspaper business, they don’t seem to be asking the right questions. In their print form, newspapers have thrived on classified ads and local ads. However, just having classifieds doesn’t garner enough of a readership interest advertisers. By providing compelling content, a newspaper could establish a large, interested subscriber base. On the internet, sites like EBay and Craigslist grabbed the classified ad market by being first or by being free, leaving newspapers without that avenue for obtaining revenue. That is OK, because it doesn’t make sense for an online news source to have classified ads.
It is more natural for the news source to have ads related to the content they are producing. Ads may be placed prominently alongside the news. This can provide revenue, but clearly isn’t rewarding enough to keep companies afloat in tough times. To really solve the problem, one needs to only ask who is taking the profit from the content that online newspapers provide. The answer is that search engines are. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or any other search engine is the equivalent of a delivery man. They take an order for information an deliver it to the customer. Only, unlike in the real world where the producer of the product gets paid, on the internet, they aren’t. The AP is starting to understand that the search engines need the AP more than the AP needs search engines. However, it should be a rather simple exercise for major news sites to make an exclusive agreement with Yahoo or Microsoft on licensing fees to reference their copyrighted material and subsequently tell the others to cease and desist. This should hold up legally, because all any search engine is doing is taking the content and re-packaging it to make a product that produces a profit. It certainly won’t be difficult to show that there is significant financial damage being caused, nor is it difficult to understand that the search engines rely upon content providers in order to produce revenue.