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March 14, 2012, 11:17 a.m.

NewsCred wants to be the AP newswire for the 21st century

The company is a meta wire service, providing content from hundreds of publishers with a single API.

The Associated Press is many things: a giant, globe-spanning news organization; an arbiter of spelling and grammar; a vendor of app platforms; a distributor of other news organizations’ content.

It’s that last area where the AP has attracted some of its most vigorous competitors. From ad hoc content-sharing networks to startup-driven cooperatives, a number of businesses have argued that they can use online tools to do a better job of connecting content producers and content consumers.

The latest to join that battle is New York startup NewsCred, whose CEO says it can surpass the wire service by being a technology company at heart and by becoming a wire of wires.

“The days where you deliver a huge AP wire and there’s a bunch of editors looking at a screen and manually taking articles and publishing them ― I think those days are numbered,” said Shafqat Islam, the NewsCred co-founder and CEO.

NewsCred logoThe company has licensed content from an impressive 750 providers — the AP among them — covering a healthy share of the world’s major English-language news brands. NewsCred clients can subscribe to bundles of content assembled from those individual sources; for instance, the finance bundle includes full-text articles from sources such as Bloomberg, Forbes, The Economist, Reuters, and VentureBeat. The tech bundle includes sources such as Gizmodo, The Next Web, and The Guardian.

Customers can also create their own bundles by assembling a few individual sources. Islam said the price varies depending on the exact bundle, but cited a $3,000-$5,000 per month price for something like its finance bundle. NewsCred shares the revenue with publishers and provides sophisticated analytics for their content.

Unlike NewsCred’s competitors, Islam says, his is a technology company at heart. NewsCred ingests data from hundreds of content-management systems and standardizes it, providing a single, well-documented API. The company has developed its own natural language processing technology to parse news copy for keywords and topics. (Human editors refine the results of the algorithms.) Islam said some publishers are even using NewsCred’s API in lieu of their own, relying on the company for heavy lifting on the back end.

In fact the current iteration of NewsCred is a solution to the company’s own failed consumer-facing product. NewsCred was launched a few years ago as a customizable news portal. It didn’t take off, Islam said.

“What we wanted to do was license content. We wanted to get full text content into our consumer portal. We were ready to pay for it. But it was so damn difficult,” he said. Plus: “The technology was terrible. People didn’t have APIs. We looked around and said, ‘Why are we struggling to build this consumer site when we can just solve these problems?'”

NewsCred says the newswire of the future is an API.

NewsCred is going after two kinds of customers, what Islam categorizes as traditional publishers and brands. In both cases, the customer may not have the resources or expertise to launch a vertical or new website.

Take the example of Orange Telecom. “They don’t have editors, they don’t have journalists, but they want to create a compelling experience on their consumer site,” Islam said. “So they license content from us, entertainment content — news articles, reviews, images, videos — and they power this entire entertainment section on their site…without having to go and hire a huge editorial team.” Islam said other new NewsCred clients include Business Insider, Weather Channel, Zurich Insurance, and Condé Nast.

Islam said a newspaper might realize some sections are easier to monetize than others — travel, health, weddings — and want to launch a new section quickly. (Remember how USA Today partnered with Demand Media to generate cheap content for its travel section.)

There are similar-but-different outfits in this space. The biggest competitor is NewsRight — itself spun off from the AP — which announced today it will license content from 29 major news companies to customers of Moreover Technologies (remember them?) — its first major deal. Publish2, not quite a startup any more, also has a few mainstream media partnerships and has spoken with braggadocio of becoming “The New AP” — a model that doesn’t seem to have taken off. (And, of course, the AP is hardly standing still.)

Islam said NewsCred is not in the business of tracking down over-aggregators and content thieves, the posture the AP adopted for a time with its News Licensing Group, the precursor to NewsRight. “We have absolutely no plans to become a litigation shop,” Islam said. (NewsRight CEO David Westin said the same thing about his company in January.)

“Our focus is on, ‘How do we help these content providers get more distribution? How do we help our clients get the best content?'” Islam said. “So it’s really more of a carrot play than the stick.”

POSTED     March 14, 2012, 11:17 a.m.
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