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UK newspapers threaten NewsNowNews aggregator NewsNow has been on the receiving end of legal threats from a number of UK newspapers, a move that is the equivalent of a herd of donkeys filing a class action suit against the inventor of the wheel.

The announcement comes six months after the Associated Press said it would demand more control over links and revenue sharing from aggregators.

While AP hasn’t been named by NewsNow as a complainant, an open letter by NewsNow MD Struan Bartlett has pointed to most of the UK’s top newspapers, including The Times, The Sun, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Daily Express.

He's asked these newspapers to "restore amicable relations" with aggregators, including NewsNow, which itself appears under threat as a result of the mainstream media's demands.

Bartlett writes:

Your organisations have sought to introduce new controls on our linking to your websites. Now, a number of parties have threatened us (plus other aggregators) with legal action if we do not either accept these new controls or else stop linking."

The keyphrase in that last sentence is ‘stop linking’. It once again proves that newspaper executives are reality dodgers of the highest order.

Everybody knows that links are what makes the world turn these days, as far as internet traffic and SEO is concerned. Asking a popular news aggregator to stop linking is one of the more brainless moves a newspaper executive could ever do. The ignorance shown here is simply unbelievable.

He points out the madness of this kind of hostile action:

"We can’t speak for all aggregators but for our part at NewsNow, we don’t do anything that detracts from the value of your content. We don’t redistribute your web pages to anyone. We operate within the law, and we don’t do you any harm.

"Far from it. We deliver you traffic and drive you revenues you otherwise wouldn’t have received. The idea that we are undermining your businesses is incorrect. It is fanciful to imagine that, if it weren’t for link aggregators, you would have more traffic or revenues. We provide a service that you do not: a means for readers to find your content more readily, via continuously updating links to a diversity of websites."

Bartlett adds: 

We have had enough of indiscriminate attacks. To vilify all aggregators as “cheap worthless technological news solutions” and “content kleptomaniacs” is just empty rhetoric. Not only is that misleading - it is misguided.”

He asks the newspapers to “stop the legal threats”, to “recognise the place and value of legitimate news aggregation websites in today’s news ecosystem”, to “commit to upholding the freedom to link”, and to “support those of your readers who wish to find links to your websites on NewsNow”. 

I can’t help but feel his requests will fall on the deafest of ears.

The old days are not going to return. The media and advertising markets are fragmented and will remain that way. The internet will continue to grow, and will impact on the media industry, but it doesn't have to be game over. 

Here’s 10 things that newspaper execs should be doing:

  1. Accept and embrace reality (stop dreaming)
  2. Deal with change like grown ups (stop bitchin’)
  3. Spend your time and energy fixing up your businesses and planning for the future (stop blaming)
  4. Understand why links are important (isn’t it weird to bang on about this as we approach 2010?)
  5. Embrace websites that can drive traffic (you already do this, judging by the amount of effort you spend on generating links / traffic from sites like Digg and the blogosphere at large. PS - it’s not their fault. Guaranteed.)
  6. Get closer to your audience and give them the tools they need to engage (social media helps, as you already know)
  7. Stop bastardising your brand (The Daily Mail’s web readers are presumably wholly different from the newspaper's readers, given the focus on celebrity content… is this quest for traffic helpful, or harmful?)
  8. Figure out what your advertisers want (and what they don’t want, because they'll be sure to tell you)
  9. Train your staff (for the love of somebody else’s God, please start training your journalists in the ways of the web. Ditto your commercial people, your HR people, your management staff, etc)
  10. Build out a multichannel business (the sooner you do this, the better it’s going to be in the long run).

[Lovely 'shift | blame' mage by cyberslayer via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 20 October, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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marco van basten

11: Roll over and take it up the ass in the name of progress. (getting fucked)

about 7 years ago


Jamie Nelson

So, based on this analysis, only a "brainless" "reality dodger of the highest order", gulity of "unbelievable ignorance", would ever impose a legal condition which bans all unauthorised aggregator activity on their website users - such as:

"You agree that you will not use any robot, spider, other automatic device, or manual process to monitor or copy our web pages or the content contained herein without the prior written consent of..."

Unimaginable that anybody who "knows that links are what makes the world turn these days" would ever consider such an all-encompassing ban on the links which drive their success.

And which far-sighted internet soothsayer and reality lover is responsible for this? Step forward... "the leading source of independent advice and insight on digital marketing and ecommerce" - econsultancy.com. Editor-in-chief: Chris Lake



about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hi Jamie, LOL, nice catch, but websites normally have ultra-stringent T&Cs to fall back on in the event of major abuse. My definition of abuse might be different to a newspaper exec's definition, but we certainly don't go waving around legal documents or threatening firms that simply link to us. We actually like websites that drive traffic.

That clause is there pretty much to stop page scraping, and the subsequent republishing of *all* of our content on other websites. I should imagine it's pretty standard, and something we can legally use if necessary.

If we really wanted to block robots then we'd do so technically. The newspapers are in exactly the same position, only they choose not to do this. They allow Googlebot etc to crawl their pages and index links. Ditto aggregators.

And now they want a piece of the action, as if that's going to save the day.


about 7 years ago


Jamie Nelson

Nice try but thats not what it says and, with respect, you're making your somewhat trenchant and uncompromising article look a bit silly.

If your position is "we like some stuff but not other stuff" then its exactly the same as newspapers' position other than your point of view about what you put in the "good" category versus the "bad" - surely they're not "brainless" just because they have a slightly different view?

imagine a company which copies, stores and indexes all the material on your website, ignores or circumvents technical blocks, and then sells (rather than just gives away) tailored feeds of links to that content to a niche group of businesses and individuals who find it a cheap alternative to licenced, paid services which make you money.

Some sites owners might love that, others might find it problematic because it costs them money and gains them no benefit so they might decide to use their ultra-stringent clause to stop them

Or, to your point that all traffic is good traffic, some websites, heaven forfend, might find that a huge proportion of their traffic is worthless and they don't want to pursue it any more.

In either circumstance I don't think that makes them "brainless", "reality dodgers" or "ignorant" - quite the opposite, it makes them realistic, pragmatic and, I think you'll find, basing their decisions on actual data and evidence rather than top-of-head grandiose assertions. The fact that things don't look the same to them as you is a reflection of their different business realities, not their IQ.

Let me ask another question: if your ultra-stringent clause (which doesn't reflect your actual policy and which you don't expect anyone to pay any attention to - an admission, by the way, that might make your terms unenforceable should you ever try) is there to fall back on in cases of abuse, how do you expect it to help you when you find something which IS abuse and you want to stop?

Your terms and conditions are a legal document but you say you won't "wave them around" even to someone you are trying to enforce them against? And if you do, what happens if the other person ignores you? What are your T&Cs there for if you never intend anyone to look at them, you never intend to draw anyone's attention to them and you never intend to use the law to enforce them against abusers?

I don't think its nice to call people brainless, ignorant reality dodgers and I would never say that about anyone, but do you really think your article was well thought through?

about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof


You make some good points. I'm not trying to be offensive, but I stand by my position: I think it's nuts to go to war with the aggregators. Newspapers have businesses to fix, and this kind of low rent action isn't going to help improve things. There are bigger issues to sort out, don't you think?

You're trying to shine a light on us but it's not our business model that's the problem here. We can turn a blind eye to certain rules that don't harm us. Maybe newspapers aren't in the same position. Maybe these links do harm them. I don't see it though: all I see is newspapers wanting some of the money generated by another service.

How much money does an aggregator like NewsNow actually generate? I cannot imagine that there's much to go around by the time all the publishers grab their slice. Do all content owners deserve a piece of the action, or just the mainstream publishers?

Also, Google News doesn't have any paid services (or seem to generate any money), yet is often mentioned by news execs as one of the problem aggregators. So is it about links, or money, or just sour grapes?

Finally, where does it start and stop? I run a celebrity blog and receive daily emails from some of these newspapers (and I never signed up to receive them). They actively want me to link to their stories. I make money from advertising on my site. Will they soon be asking me to hand over a piece of that pie? 

Anyway, I assume you work for one of the publishers and - if you do - I am certainly happy to hear more about your side of the story if you want to explain more via an interview.

about 7 years ago


Jamie Nelson

Actually I was just trying to point out the irony of your own position, your terms and conditions directly contradicting your strongly worded "I know best" article. Maybe I shouldn't have repsonded to your tortured attempt to explain it. We can agree to disagree - and just to prove it I'll quickly add that the "its only petty theft, not grand larceny" defence doesn't work any better for copyright infringers than it does for shoplifters. And lastly, if you don't know what this is about (links, money or sour grapes) then perhaps you shoudn't be pontificating about it.

about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

You can make as many correlations as you like but you're not comparing apples with apples. Seems like you have too much time on your hands but are not prepared to stick your head over the parapet to explain more about your own position.

about 7 years ago


Spider Jerusalem

Here we go again; yet another organisation (NewsNow) is stirring up confusion by failing to comprehend this issue.  This is not about links.  As Jamie, quite rightly points out, it is about addressing a business model pursued by aggregators where they profit from stealing content.  How seemingly intelligent people (yes, you Chris) fail to understand this issue and what the publishers are trying to do is astonishing. 

Newspaper (and obviously this site) websites contain Terms and Conditions which quite clearly state that the content is for non-commercial use only.  Sending links via digg, Facebook, email or whatever tool you choose is non-commercial and publishers promote that type of activity.  Wholesale scraping, indexing and distribution of their content for commercial gain is not.  So, what publishers are now enforcing is that organisations that offer this type of service (NewsNow, Meltwater, Moreover, etc.) must be licensed to continue doing so.  This is not ignorant. It is commercially astute and within the rules set out in copyright law in this country.

This doesen't kill the aggregators role or business model. But instead, enhances it by putting them in a mutually beneficial relationship with the content provider. 

about 7 years ago

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