What is the AP? With even some of its member companies tabbing it as a faceless large news organization, you could easily miss the historic and economic background to this past week's kerfuffle. (I've you've been signed off the nets during that period, the AP attempted a number of DMCA takedown orders against the 'Drudge Retort' website, based upon short excerpts, headlines and occasionally naked links to some its stories. The excerpts, BTW, were shorter than those the above-linked Knoxville News blog post, written by a professional journalist, made of the New York Times article it cited as primary material. Well within fair use, IOW.)
The Associated Press is actually a cooperative, an corporate organization formed by old media companies as far back as 1846. Its main function has always been to collect and sometimes edit stories written by reporters at its member companies, and circulate them for possible publication by other member organizations. Back in the day, it was a way of economizing on costs like wire charges for international coverage. It's also a way for papers to get stories on distant local events that reach national prominence; the chances of your local rag having a reporter in (say) Des Moines when the levee goes down aren't too high - their reportage is almost certainly a locally written story carried by, and perhaps edited by the AP.
Put another way, the AP is an aggregation and distribution business. Of information. It's one of those 'infomediaries' that were supposed to have died a decade ago, with a dagger labeled 'Internet' stuck into the heart. Why is it still alive to annoy the blogosphere?
Part of the reason is that the AP's customers are also its owners. Take a look at the board of directors list. It would be hard to come up with better definition by example of 'vested interest'. These are not people motivated to change the AP's way of business until they are forced. That force has now arrived.
Not many posts after journalism insider Jeff Jarvis' screed against the AP, you will find the latest recital of bad financials from the newspaper biz. Among other discouraging numbers, a 14% quarterly fall in advertising revenue. And the AP both buys from, and sells to, that industry. They are getting it coming and going.
While the AP doesn't publish its financials, you can well imagine that they are pretty grim. And the 'net, a main driver of the newspapers' debacle, is likely even worse for the AP. While analysis suggest that online ad revenue will never fully replace print for the newspapers, the AP generally gets no revenue at all from Internet ads carried on sites that republish its stories. While Eric Schmidt may dubiously think Google has some moral duty to bail out display ad venues, it's hard to see how that would equate to making life better for the AP. After all, it's just redistributing stories written by reporters at its member newspapers. Google might be forgiven for thinking it's doing at least as good a job at that itself.
No matter how insulated the business and board, reality will eventually pay a call. Having been involved with boards full of 'strategic partners' before, I can attest to how much fun they can be when the business model evaporates and the owners' own strategies are all to seek. Rather than spending his time bleating about the imagined impact of 9/11 on the suffering press, the AP CEO and President now gets to work on the more mundane issue of how to stop the walls from coming in. Perhaps leading to certain desperation mode attempts to regain control over a distribution choke point that has long since evaporated, rather than figuring out how his organization could add some value. Links, huh, what a concept!. Maybe they should try it.
Nobody gets their own set of facts, and nobody gets their own set of laws. Having gotten squishy on the former, the AP now seems to be forgetting the latter. For legal overreach and brand destruction in the aid of staying in the buggy whip business, the AP is awarded this blog's Dubious Distinction award for business folly.Jeff Jarvis makes essentially the same points, with more sympathy and less snark.