The AP’s inevitable fate

AP logoEditor & Publisher had a couple of articles this week (here, here) about the slow stream of newspapers who are opting out of their deals with the Associated Press. The biggie is the Minneapolis Star Tribune. According to various reports, these AP contracts have a two-year out clause. In Minneapolis, the Star Tribune has given its required notice, but in Spokane, the Spokesman-Review is even challenging the clause, insisting that the latest rate increase is actually a new contract, which the paper is refusing to accept. In their minds, the Spokesmen-Review will be free of the AP in January without waiting the two years.

Other papers are also leaving the fold. They include The Post Register of Idaho Falls; The Bakersfield Californian; and The Yakima Herald-Republic and Wenatchee World, both in Washington. Other publishers have sent angry letters to the coöperative, and papers in Ohio have banded together to form their own coöperative, which portends further problems for the AP.

This should surprise no one, for, as I’ve oft-written in the past, the Internet by-passes middlemen, and it is no respecter of companies. The networks even by-pass affiliates in delivering their programs directly to viewers these days. This “by-pass” trait inherent to the Web has been discussed by minds much greater than mine, only they use the term “route around” to describe the idea.

“The net regards censorship as a failure, and routes around it.” John Gilmore, SUN Microsystems.
“The net regards hierarchy as a failure, and routes around it.” Mark Pesce, Writer, consultant, Sydney, Australia
“The web regards centralization as a failure, and routes around it… by moving to the edge.” Stowe Boyd

My take: “The net regards the middleman as a failure, and routes around it.”

So the handwriting is on the wall for the AP, which has its work cut out for it in redefining itself. As a purveyor of original content, it will always have a place in the media world, but the creation of original content — as all media companies are discovering — is at the wrong end of the value chain in today’s business world. It’s just plain expensive, and if you can’t make enough money to support it through advertising, you’ve got a big problem.’

At the AP, original reporting is supported by the contracts the coöperative has with the hundreds (thousands?) of media outlets around the country and beyond. AP has a history of always raising prices, and I can remember from my days as a news director the pain of the size of the monthly check that went to the AP. I can also remember feeling absolutely choiceless, and therefore powerless, in the relationship.

The clear message from the action of these papers is that life for the AP cannot continue, for there are now ways to “route around” the coöperative and obtain news directly from the source, and I expect a cheap model for this is just around the corner. Such a model could come from the AP, but it won’t, because like any other business caught in the throes of disruption, the AP has to protect its legacy business.

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  1. […] Terry Heaton’s Take On The AP 30 08 2008 As Mr. Heaton is a heckuva lot smarter than me, and being that I agree with him on this and am having a moment of intellectual superiority because we are on the same page. […]

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