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Oct. 10, 2013, 2:21 p.m.
LINK: talkingpointsmemo.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 10, 2013

That’s the shall-we-say provocative title of Josh Marshall’s post over at Talking Points Memo, the liberal politics website he founded and has led to quite a bit of growth over the past decade or so. Marshall announced a couple of days ago that he’d killed off TPM’s full-text RSS feeds for general users and removed the site from Flipboard, Google Currents, and similar aggregator apps, calling them “basically scams against the publishers.” What’s his reasoning?

First, there’s no single digital news publishing model. And I’m not trying to speak for everyone. Different sites have different editorial and business strategies. Also, ‘scam’ may have been a bit too harsh; no one forces a TPM or other sites to work with these services and there not really explicit lying…

That said, I do think these services, as they currently exist are bad for publishers. We give them the entirety of our product — news stories, updates, posts, what-have-you — in exchange for a notional thing called exposure, brand awareness, blah blah blah and in theory or at some point in the future a cut of the ad revenues these services bring in for selling ads on their platforms. The problem is there are no ad revenues that go to the publishers. Where they exist they are literally trivial. The real payoff is supposed to be reach, letting new potential readers know we’re out there…

What I hear from some is, “Well, I just read Flipboard and I don’t have the time to visit a bunch of different sites. So you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face because you’re going to lose out on the audience I represent.” Well, that’s the key. That audience has nothing to do with us as a healthy news operation. We have no relationship with you. We don’t know about you in terms of how often you visit. When we tell advertisers how many people read our stuff we can’t include you in the number because we don’t know about you and really why would they care since ads we run don’t appear there. Most of all there’s no revenue stream tied to your readership.

Marshall comes around to defending his scams comment: “From where we sit, in their current incarnations, these services are basically scams. I think their success is largely a matter of publishers being snowed by the mass transformations in publishing and particularly digital publishing and not being able to keep their heads about them.”

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