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Monday, 14 December 2009

Can independent football websites survive after Newsnow caves in to the newspapers?

As I've mentioned previously NewsNow has been under legal pressure from the major British newspapers to stop using links to their articles to generate money. Basically Newsnow subsidises the free links that you see to football stories by selling certain niche aggregations of worthier subjects to companies; advertising alone, of the type that Newsnow favours cannot support the infrastructure needed.

So all those links to football transfers rumours, match reports and so on could soon be a thing of the past.

Newsnow is the second biggest aggregator in Britain (behind Google News), claiming 20% of the market and I reckon it is the biggest sports news aggregator. Google News has already come to some arrangements regarding paying the newspaper sites which left Newsnow isolated and having to decide whether to charge users for clicking on its links, fight a costly court battle or drop links to the big media companies.

NewsNow has today announced that it will no longer link to several hundred newspaper sites including The Guardian, The Times, Independent, Telegraph and Daily Mail (full list) in its paid listings. The free, public listings, will continue to contain links to the major British newspaper sites.

But even the maintenance of the free links cannot last. Newsnow's revenues will fall by this admission and this must endanger the future of its service and indeed any professional aggregator.

Newsnow have really fallen between several stools in their decision; they could have paid up, they could have fought a court case or they could have chopped all links to big media. By dropping paid links Newsnow has only delayed the inevitable, the big media companies will strengthen while it weakens. And when big media inevitably demands that all links to its sites are removed Newsnow will already be too weak to fight the proposal.

Better to cut all links to big media sites now when they are not ready to lose the traffic and see whether that brings some moderation than to follow whatever plan the big media companies decide should be on the agenda.

So have we seen the beginning of the end for aggregated football news? If so then the big media companies will look for new ways to ensure that there is traffic to their soon-to-be-charging silos.

I guess that the BBC will be targeted heavily over the next year with the intent of decimating its online (free) news and sport offerings - again to encourage people onto the websites of the Times, Guardian, Daily Mail and so on. I wonder how long the very popular 'football rumours' page on the BBC will be allowed to continue - or its equivalent on Football365 and elsewhere.

As well as the BBC the newspapers will, in all probability, turn on the independent fansites and forums - prosecuting them for every perceived injustice, safe in the knowledge that these sites have no finances to fight off any bullying legal letters and will be forced to close. Many fansites (not Squarefootball, ofc) do plagiarize the big newspapers, copy-and-pasting entire articles - and this practice should be stopped. But many don't but there is unlikely to be any differentiation.

The newspapers want your money and the only way they can get it is by shutting down any free source of news that they can find to force people into paying what they used to pay to get paper-and-ink news. Can independent football websites survive this storm?

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