Friday, March 25, 2005

Yahoo, what, where, when, why -- and how!

Yahoo blows away the competition as the firstest with the mostest news readers on the web.

Yahoo's reach of more than 12.4 million unique visitors for the week ended Feb. 20 puts it well ahead of its closest challengers, CNN, AOL and MSNBC, according to the latest rankings by Nielsen/NetRatings (illustrated below).

In yet another illustration of how newspaper companies are being beaten at their own game on the Internet, the New York Times was the only publisher to make it to the top five. At that, its traffic is scarcely better than a third of Yahoo's.

Interestingly, Google News (recently sued by Agence France Presse for violating its copyright) ranks No. 9, behind Gannett, including USA Today and a host of local dailies; the Internet Broadcasting Systems, a consortium of local TV web sites, and the combined Tribune properties, including the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Orlando Sentinel.

Yahoo, Google and many other web-only content aggregators build their traffic by continuously picking and choosing among thousands and thousands of news sources (including the newspapers) to make it easy for news junkies to mainline headlines and move on.

The web sites operated by newspapers and local TV outlets understandably and rightfully want to billboard their own stuff, which, though important to their respective markets, may not be as universally appealing as the tsunami or whether Paris Hilton's latest slip is showing.

Not only do web aggregators poach audience from the primary news sources, but they are doing it for proportionately much less money than a local news outlet spends on its site. Aggregators simply lash some indexing algorithms to a bunch of web spiders and they are good to go. Newspapers and TV stations -- until further notice, anyway -- actually have to hire people to report the news and post it to the web. Quaint, but costly.

As the online guys get bigger and sell more advertising, their cost of goods drops and their profits rise. This forces ugly decisions on the primary news sources as they struggle to maintain their pro rata share of audience and ad dollars: Do they (A) invest more money in their product or (B) cut costs to maintain an acceptable degree of profitability? The latest word is that they have chosen Plan B.

If publishers eventually right-sized reporting into extinction, would the day finally come when all the links were missing on the aggregator sites?

While it is in my enlightened self-interest as a poor country blogger to urge Google to battle strenuously in the courts to secure the broadest possible latitude for the fair use of copyrighted content on the Internet, there is a solution to the gross economic inequity that has arisen between the have-news and have-pageviews guys.

Web aggregators voluntarily should pay copyright fees to the primary news producers generously providing the meat and potatoes to their gravy train.


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