Monday, August 23, 2010

LinkRights - a possible alternative to newspaper paywalls

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article from August 8, 2010, by Dalton Conley, Dean of Social Sciences at NYU. "Linkrights and Wrongs," proposes something that Jim Milles discussed here some years ago as a model to compensate the originator of ideas and words on the Internet fairly. Linkrights would share with the creator of a website, any revenue generated by ads on websites that aggregate or link to the material. So that search engines, aggregator sites, and any blogs that run ads would share whatever money they generate from ads at the page where the link exists to the page, or material aggregated from this other site. When a reader clicks on the link to read the original material, it would send a share of the ad revenue to the author of the linked webpage.

This avoids the tragic flaw of the current model, paywalls, being explored by several newspapers, of trying to charge their readers. Users will not pay for the material. There are too many other free sites, and the users have too much experience of free material to accept charges unless there is a real value added, as with many databases. Readers continue to access the material free of charge. The revenue continues to be generated by the advertisements. And the distribution turns out to be easy on the Web. This is something Internet browsers are very good at doing. They can easily spot a visitor to a website and Ka-ching make a little note that this page rings up a micro-payment for this http site and that http site on the page. The bookkeeping is taken care of automatically, in the same way that it is done now, with the ads. The original payment is split off, among the various pages to which the reader links as she reads, giving a fair share to all the authors, or photographers or artists whose work contributed to bringing the reader to the page which brought the viewer to see the ads.

Newspapers would be able to receive money for all the times websites link to their pages for either the stories or photographs, if there are ads at the websites. They would also be responsible for paying a share of their ad revenue for any links they use on their pages. Websites like Out of the Jungle, which have no ads would not generate any revenue to share (at least as far as I understand the program). I would also guess that any links to our little website would be so small as to amount to such a small payment as to be not worth cutting a check. But Conley's point is that scholars' sites would not be impeded. He has a nice wind-up:

While the numbers may need to be tweaked, the goal of linkrights is a return to market balance: You get what you pay for, and you pay for what you get. The establishment of linkright law would do much to restore order to the ether universe. Hey, it may even save old-media dinosaurs like this one, which provide a public service with their expensive reporting.
I, too, would grieve for the loss of newspapers, both the Chronicle of Higher Education, and such as the Boston Globe or The New York Times, or even smaller ones such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch or the Lexington Herald Leader. At different points in my life, all of these (but the NY Times) have been my home town paper. I have been a subscriber and read them every day. They serve important roles in their communities, not only with news and local investigative reporting, but as a kind of community glue. It would be a terrible shame to lose that.


Bunny said...

The problem with this model is advertising isn't paying enough as it is, sharing the meager earnings won't make things better.

Betsy McKenzie said...

You may be right. It's a frustrating situation because I don't think the newspaper paywalls are the answer, either.