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March 29, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
A newly laid brick wall

This Week in Review: Paywall prospects in the U.K., and making sense of two Yahoo deals

Plus: Flipboard’s big edit-your-own-magazine overhaul, the future of RSS, U.S. government secrecy, and the rest of the week’s media and tech news.

A newly laid brick wall

Big paywall announcements in U.K.: As seems to happen pretty much every week now, a few more big paywall dominoes fell this week — two of the U.K.’s biggest papers, The Sun and The Telegraph, as well as the San Francisco Chronicle here in the States. The Telegraph’s pay plan is a metered model, which has become the standard in the U.S. and Canada. But as Roy Greenslade of The Guardian pointed out, The Telegraph is the first general-interest U.K. newspaper to adopt a metered model. (The British business paper The Financial Times pioneered the model.)

Econsultancy’s Graham Martin was skeptical about using the paywall for general content like The Telegraph’s, as opposed to The Financial Times’ specialized content. But Patrick Smith of The Media Briefing was optimistic about The Telegraph’s chances given the loyalty of its readership, but questioned why The Telegraph and others are moving so slowly toward pay plans. Digital media consultant Martin Belam said the pay plan is loose enough that it should only catch heavy users and industry types, both of whom will be likely to pay up.

News Corp.’s Sun, Britain’s largest paper, also announced plans for a paywall this week, though it’s not scheduled to come until later this year. The Guardian reported that it’s penciled in to start September, when the Sun’s valuable rights to show clips of English Premier League football/soccer kick in.

The San Francisco Chronicle also instituted a paywall this week, launching a second, paid site, SFChronicle.com alongside its longtime free one, SFGate.com. The two-site model is patterned after that of The Boston Globe, which has had its paywall in effect since 2011. SF Weekly’s Rachel Swan gave some historical context to the decision, while the San Francisco Appeal’s Rita Hao said the Chronicle is putting the wrong kind of news on its paywalled site: She’d rather pay for news she needs (like city hall coverage) than news she wants. (Meanwhile, Chronicle staffers have been protesting a cut to healthcare benefits.)

As all these paywalls go up, The Media Briefing’s Jasper Jackson outlined the various models being used, and his colleague, Patrick Smith, profiled the free model of Britain’s Mail Online, the most popular newspaper on the web. Journalism.co.uk’s Rachel McAthy, meanwhile, examined the influence of The New York Times’ paywall, launched two years ago this week.

PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy described these paywalls as an attempt to cling to high-cost, high-quality content as reality sets in that the online ad model just doesn’t work. And Reuters’ Felix Salmon described newspapers’ big-picture online strategy: “first get people used to the idea of paying at all, and then, slowly, raise the amount that you ask them to pay over time.” He predicted that newspapers, through consultants, would use each other for A/B testing how much customers will be willing to pay.

yahoo-ice-cc

Yahoo’s deals in mobile and user content: Yahoo made (or is reportedly about to make) a couple of acquisitions this week that provide some clues to where it’s headed as a content company. The deal that was actually completed was the purchase of Summly, a news-reading app that summarizes long-form stories for mobile readers. The deal made headlines not so much because of Summly’s technology, but because of its founder, Nick D’Aloisio, who’s just 17.

Yahoo will hire D’Aloisio and two other at Summly, shut the app down and incorporate its algorithm into its own mobile technology. Kara Swisher of All Things D reported that the deal was worth $30 million, and while she called it a very high price, she said Yahoo is paying for D’Aloisio to become the face of its efforts to be seen as a mobile-first company.

Swisher wasn’t the only one who saw the price as high, or the move as a publicity grab. Slashdot’s Nick Kolakowski wondered if this was a sign of a tech bubble, and Origami founder Vibhu Norby said the deal made no sense to him. Kevin Roose of New York magazine, on the other hand, said that if you view the deal as a recruiting move rather than a technically strategic one, it makes plenty of sense.

Jack Shafer of Reuters cautioned that the image of Summly as sole work of a 17-year-old isn’t exactly an accurate one — the company’s gotten plenty of help from veteran executives and PR professionals and an all-star list of investors. Cornell prof Emin Gün Sirer downplayed Summly’s work, saying it was merely “bolt-on engineering” based on core technology licensed from another company. NPR’s Steve Mullis said that Yahoo is essentially paying millions for an algorithm — “It bought math” — and worried about an inflated value that kind of product.

The Wall Street Journal also reported last week (in a paywalled article) that Yahoo is in talks to buy Dailymotion, a Europe-based YouTube-esque site. Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson reiterated this week that the deal is as good as done, and reported that Dailymotion is part of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s plan to eliminate content creation costs and replace that material with user-generated content and partnership deals, focusing on personalizing consumption for users. Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily didn’t see that as cause for alarm, arguing that Yahoo’s always been more of an aggregation-based media company anyway. “Mayer isn’t dismantling some gem of original content. She’s turning her back on Yahoo’s long-unrealized potential,” she wrote.

flipboardFlipboard turns the user into editor: The social news app Flipboard introduced a major redesign this week that includes a few significant changes — a new bookmarklet that allows users to add any content on the web outside the app, commenting, and an extensive content search. The biggest development, though, is the ability for users to create and share their own magazines, turning Flipboard from a consumption tool to something more potentially creative. Walt Mossberg of All Things D has a good review of the new editing feature.

Jeff Sonderman of Poynter said the new Flipboard looks like it could drastically remake mobile news discovery. As Sonderman and Time’s Harry McCracken noted, the obvious comparison is Pinterest, though as McCracken pointed out, Flipboard is still distinct-looking. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM said that while the sharing isn’t new, the ability to edit content “picks up where Google Reader and other RSS services left off.”

Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed characterized Flipboard’s aims as much higher than that. It’s vying with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to replace the traditional homepage as the gateway to the web. Austin Carr of Fast Company reported that Flipboard doesn’t see itself as a social network like those platforms, but as a “content network.” In a second article, Ingram suggested some innovative avenues Flipboard could go down with its new format regarding advertising and revenue-sharing deals. At The Guardian, Stuart Dredge also looked at the revenue factor, as well as several other aspects of Flipboard’s changes, including scale and the balance between humans and algorithms.

Who’s hurt by Google Reader’s death: A few lingering points being made from the now two-week-old plug-pulling of Google Reader: Ed Bott of ZDNet argued that the real victims in the Google Reader story are not its users, but the companies that Google has muscled out of the RSS market over the past eight years. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman and The Economist’s Ryan Avent both argued that the best way to treat Reader and many of Google’s other services may be as public infrastructure.

google-reader-mark-all-as-readMeanwhile, the competitors continue to court Reader users — Digg hinted this week that its Reader replacement will go well beyond RSS — but TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wondered what will happen if RSS dies, particularly for the sites that depend so heavily on its traffic. Instapaper’s Marco Arment made a similar point, saying that RSS’s demise would most hurt smaller, low-volume sites in particular. “Without RSS readers, the long tail would be cut off,” he wrote. Dave Winer also proposed an open Twitter as an RSS replacement.

Reading roundup: Lots of other stuff going on in media and tech this week:

— The New York Times’ David Carr wrote a column detailing the almost absurd level of secrecy surrounding the trial of WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning, though CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis said news orgs shouldn’t be let off the hook for not covering the case as extensively as they should. Meanwhile, some in journalism are expressing concern at the reports of impending indictments of top Obama officials for leaking information to the press. New Columbia j-school dean Steve Coll talked to Foreign Policy’s Thomas Ricks about the case, while AEJMC, the organization representing America’s journalism schools and professors, condemned the crackdown.

— One important story from late last week that didn’t make last week’s review: A federal judge ruled in the Associated Press’ favor in its copyright suit against Meltwater, a company that summarizes stories for corporate clients. PaidContent’s Jeff John Roberts explained the ruling, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation called very troubling.

— With the Columbia Journalism School announcing its new dean, Steve Coll, Michael Wolff ripped the school as irrelevant, calling instead for a system based on teaching entrepreneurship values and skills. Columbia student Jihii Jolly explained why she’s going there, and PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie defended the school, and also contended that its dean having never tweeted isn’t a strike against it. (Coll has since begun tweeting.)

— The New York Times’ Daniel Victor went after Twitter hashtags in a Lab post this week, arguing that they usually aren’t useful and are aesthetically damaging. Digital First’s Steve Buttry Storified some of the ensuing conversation about hashtags on Twitter.

— In a Q&A at the Lab, ProPublica’s Amanda Zamora discussed some her org’s innovative efforts to develop deeper participation and engagement across the web.

— Finally, a thoughtful, provocative piece from Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark, in which he argues that much of what we’re calling plagiarism isn’t actually plagiarism, and we need to quit getting so worked up about it.

Photo of Yahoo ice sculpture by Randy Stewart used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 29, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
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