Ashwini Gangal

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?

We got a few experts in the space to share their views.

As news aggregators gain in strength, online publishers are beginning to get uneasy about their dependence on this new breed. While the advantages in terms of content distribution are obvious to publishers, a niggling question is whether their dependence is sapping websites of their essential appeal among consumers. Can web publishers and aggregators co-exist comfortably - or is this a relationship forged in mistrust?

Edited Excerpts.

Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?
Today, content aggregation is a reality of the digital space.

The digital eco-system in India is still evolving. What's happening is - we're really not getting the rules of engagement right. More conversations between original content creators and aggregators, in which fair rules of exchange can be discussed, need to take place. There are a lot of people who snack on the work of original content creators for free and that's not healthy for the industry.

There is a way for the two - news content creators and aggregators - to co-exist; a lot of evolved digital societies have found it. But it has not yet happened here. It's a matter of time before it happens here, though. A couple of large players may pull out of such associations or fight with aggregators... and then we may start actually putting down the rules.

Azhar Iqubal, co-founder and CEO, Inshorts (app that summarises news content in snippets of 60 words)

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?
It's a complex issue.

We think aggregators are definitely helping news publishers out. But we're not exactly aggregators. We advocate short form content, and most of our users don't want to read long articles.

Publishers feel their visibility gets hurt because all content is put in one single place. I feel the news aggregation model will work if the revenues are shared between the publishers and aggregators properly. Maybe today aggregators don't pay publishers as much as they should.

I also support aggregators because I feel every media house is investing in the same technology and is trying to make a similar app, which is anyway a very challenging task for them. Media houses have expertise in building content, not in building a good quality app.

AJ Christopher, national head of sales and marketing, Eenadu Group

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?
The issue is not about friend or foe. Both need each other in some form or the other. Aggregators need us more.

The complaint from the publishers' side is - the traffic doesn't come back to us. This is a very big challenge. As a publisher I have to think 100 times before entering into an arrangement with a content aggregator.

As a publisher, I don't look at just the revenue part. I look at what kind of impact it will have on my content. Am I going to let my traffic land on somebody else's page and slowly let them get used to an aggregator's page rather than my page? I am definitely concerned about this.

Publishers invest a lot in creating an infrastructure to generate news content. And if somebody is going to ride on it without giving proper credit, then it's a concern. As a publisher, I want to do business in a transparent way. If somebody is taking money out of my pocket, they should tell me and take it!

But it's not just about content; it's also about experience and 'discover-ability'. The publisher has to be sensitive about several things. For example, on a mobile device, does the news site open fast? So publishers can't just get stuck with the idea that traffic is not coming back to their site. They have to make sure their content is 'discoverable'. Publishers have been a little late in getting into the technology side, but they have started noticing the gap now.

Publishers need to pick and choose the right kind of aggregators, so that both can grow together.

The two ultimate questions we need to ask are - Where will the traffic come and land? How can traffic and revenues be shared?

Gyan Gupta, CEO, DB Digital, the digital arm of Dainik Bhaskar Group

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?
This is a very loaded question. And there's no straight answer. Co-existence is possible when clear lines are drawn.

Being on these aggregator apps is like fire - you can use a fire to cook or to burn. It depends purely on the objective of the publishers. That will determine whether being on an aggregator app will help or hurt the publisher. For example, if a publisher is looking for a quicker way of distribution, they'll benefit. But if the publisher wants to be the destination or if the publisher itself is applying a lot of science and technology to get an audience, then it will hurt them.

When a publisher is on an aggregator app it cannot apply a lot of science, like analysing user data, for instance. Whoever owns the user, owns the ecosystem. All large publishers have understood this.

But there are those who don't see the game in this manner. Some publishers don't want to own the audience; they're okay with just getting reach. For them, it's not about traffic and it doesn't matter whether the story is being read on their own site or somewhere else. A case in point is Buzzfeed - their entire model is based on native advertising.

But if the publisher's model is advertising plus native plus subscription, like an NYT, then being available on other platforms doesn't help.

MV Shreyams Kumar, director, marketing and electronic media, Mathrubhumi

Do aggregators help or hurt web publishers?
Our digital platform publishes around 2,000 stories everyday across sections. From a distribution perspective the aggregator model adds value in terms of reaching out to a huge cross-section of consumers through various formats in digital media.

However, too many aggregators - many of them, unprofessional - resorting to piracy and other illegal methods, have diminished the value of the model.

Lack of transparency from aggregators is another worry for publishers. The commercial terms of the model also need to improve in favour of publishers, as the cost of gathering news content is high. For most publishers, including us, it gets subsidised by the print division.

So if aggregators bring in more transparency to the table and enhance commercial terms in favour of publishers, then both players can co-exist.

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