Jag Venugopal's Blog

June 14, 2010

And you wonder why newspapers are failing

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 3:44 pm

Over the last few days, there was a kerfuffle involving the New York Times and a group of Stanford University students who have written an RSS Newsreader for the iPad. Looking at the NYT’s behavior in this episode, one is convinced that newspapers (at least the NYT) fundamentally do not grasp the digital side of their business, snazzy websites notwithstanding.

The Pulse newsreader is an app for the Apple iPad that retails for around $4. It displays up to 20 RSS feeds in a two-dimensional matrix that can scroll vertically and horizontally. What’s neat about the pulse is that in addition to displaying text titles, it displays thumbnail pictures for each news article. The application won mention by Steve Jobs in one of his keynote addresses. Additionally, the NYT’s own Bits blog praised the application. As it turns out, the NYT was one of the default feeds included within the application. When the user clicked one of the NYT’s stories, they were taken to the NYT’s own side (ads and all) to read the entire article. In other words, the Pulse was driving eyeballs to the NYT for free.

That’s when the knuckleheads at the NYT swung into action. Quoting some obscure provision of their terms of use, the company’s lawyers sent Apple a cease-and-desist to prevent it from selling the Pulse in the app store. The claim was that by being a commercial newsreader, and including the NYT RSS feed, the authors of the app were violating the NYT’s terms.

The NYT failed to realize that most RSS apps are built on a commercial basis. No one builds RSS readers out of a sense of altruism. Even Google’s supposedly “free” newsreader exists because it fits in with their business model for making money. In fact, the NYT should have thanked the authors of the Pulse app for including them as a default feed, and driving eyeballs to their site. But no, they found a very nice way to create negative publicity for themselves. Meanwhile, the authors of the Pulse app are profiting handsomely from all the attention they got via the NYT.

After I read about this controversy, I paid my $3.99 and downloaded the Pulse app. I am happy to report that I am now reading the NYT’s feeds every day, in supposed violation of their terms of use.


1 Comment »

  1. Actually I think it’s not about them not being able to grasp the idea, but the New York Times, as well as many others, are moving within a year to a complete “pay model”, where people have to pay to read their articles (they’re not for free anymore). I assume this is to compensate the drop in newspaper sales. Making the user pay twice does not make sense.

    Still, since in a few years probably most people in developed countries will read their newspapers on ipad (or something similar), NYT’s choice was not very wise…

    Comment by z2z — June 15, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

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