The High Price of “Free” Content














April 2013

The Internet has made it a great deal easier to access media content. Even better, it has also made much of that content a lot less expensive to obtain. Indeed, most users—public relations practitioners among them—have come to expect that they won’t have to pay for most digital content.

What many users don’t realize, though, is that reliance on what they consider free content carries substantial hidden costs. For PR professionals, these costs are reflected in reduced accuracy, inefficiency, and degraded quality of service for their company or clients.

In this issue of the BurrellesLuce Newsletter, we identify six drawbacks associated with “free” content, describe the price that PR professionals may have to pay when relying on such content, and suggest ways in which they can avoid the pitfalls.

Drawback #1: Searching—But Not Too Far

Most search engines cannot locate stories produced by hyperlocal, regional, and smaller daily and weekly outlets. Aggregators look only at the sources that are in their database. But since those sources represent just a fraction of the available content, there can be gaping holes in your collected coverage if you rely exclusively on an aggregator.

Media monitoring services, on the other hand, explore a wide swath of the media universe—a realm, it should be noted, in which print continues to be a significant presence. Indeed, BurrellesLuce is the only media monitoring company that provides U.S. print content from all channels, including newspapers, consumer magazines, trade journals, newsletters and niche publications, as well as Web news, blogs, social media and broadcast outlets.

Drawback #2: Where’s the Premium?

Much of the content found in online versions of newspapers and magazines falls into the “premium” category, and as such is available only to paid subscribers—a group that excludes free online services. Therefore, aggregators whose operations are based entirely on searching free online material can’t deliver the premium content that PR practitioners reasonably count on to be part of their total media coverage.

Curation conducted by BurrellesLuce always include premium content. For BurrellesLuce, the only way to properly serve its clients is to have authorized access to all types of content. And the company supports that commitment by continually expanding the ranks of content providers with whom it has royalty agreements.

Drawback #3: The (Incomplete) Story

PR practitioners are poorly served by search engines and aggregators in other ways as well. For example, if you depend on a search engine or aggregator, you might well receive stories that don’t match the thoroughness of earlier versions produced by the same outlet. With no means of comparing the online version you see with the print version you don’t see, you can’t know whether the online version is shorter, or in some other way different from, the story that appeared in print. In fact, since the often-truncated form of online news stories may omit mention of your company, client or other key term, an aggregator’s search could miss an important story entirely.

For practical purposes, PR professionals should view online and print outlets as complementary, not mutually exclusive. You need to have both in order to see—and convey to stakeholders—the whole picture. BurrellesLuce provides valuable assistance in this regard, by delivering all your coverage, complete with full text and color images and graphics, directly and frequently to your BurrellesLuce WorkFlow portal.

Drawback #4: Questionable Quality

Most providers of media monitoring services rely on computer algorithms to determine whether a story conforms to a user’s search instructions. A glaring deficiency of this approach is that, depending on the algorithm and the complexity of the search terms, an automated procedure can miss relevant stories or, conversely, deliver stories that bear no relation to a user’s search terms.

Such problems rarely arise at BurrellesLuce. That’s because the company employs on-staff professionals who verify the relevance of each story that’s captured by BurrellesLuce. These experts examine all items produced by curation, and remove from a client’s digital pipeline any story that doesn’t conform to the client’s instructions. As a result, BurrellesLuce clients are confident of receiving only relevant stories, and are relieved knowing that they don’t have to spend time sorting through the coverage to weed out items that may not belong.

Drawback #5: Measurement? What Measurement?

Aggregators and free search platforms don’t provide analytics that PR practitioners can use to gauge the potential impact of media coverage. The lack of measurement functionality puts pressure on you to analyze the data in order to determine whether the coverage that you’ve been instrumental in generating is helping to meet stated corporate or client objectives.

In sharp contrast, BurrellesLuce offers both automated reporting and custom media measurement.

Drawback #6: Copyright Looms Larger

During the past few years, BurrellesLuce has regularly written about what PR practitioners should know about fair use and copyright. And the company’s advice bears repeating: Copyright violation can take many forms. Even the seemingly innocent copying and pasting of a “free” article into the body of an email might violate copyright.

When it comes to media monitoring, whether through a paid service or a free news search, you may also be exposed to a number of liabilities. If your monitoring service or aggregator has not disclosed what it is doing about copyright, then chances are it is not complying with the law and might potentially be exposing your company and clients to legal risks. In fact, most monitoring services don’t wish to be in the business of content curation, which requires entering into agreements with content providers; most services just aggregate content or rely on free algorithms to crawl for information.

The role of copyright compliance in media search has never been more prominent than now, following last month’s decision by a federal judge in New York who ruled that Meltwater News Service wrongly uses news content from The Associated Press and is a copyright infringer . The AP had alleged that Meltwater copies AP content and sells it to clients without getting permission or paying AP licensing fees. Meltwater has stated that it will appeal the decision, but the assumption must be that the appeals court will uphold the trial court’s decision, especially since it was decided on summary judgment. Assuming it is upheld, the ruling will greatly restrict news aggregation services.

BurrellesLuce works with newspaper publishers and other content providers – and has been doing so for more than 30 years – to help ensure that its clients benefit from the most comprehensive monitoring while avoiding the risk of being sued for copyright infringement. BurrellesLuce’s commitment to copyright protection helps explain why it joined in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the federal court in support of The AP’s lawsuit.

Bottom Line: Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

More often than not, “free” content comes at a cost. Even if you pay a media monitoring provider to access content for you, that provider may be nothing more than an aggregation service that uses free search technology in its attempt to locate stories. That hit-or-miss system works very well for the provider, but usually not so well for you. BurrellesLuce urges you to routinely review your media search results. And if any of the drawbacks described in this newsletter begin to feel familiar, contact BurrellesLuce to learn how we can help you avoid unpleasant, and potentially costly, surprises in your media monitoring activities.

About BurrellesLuce

BurrellesLuce is the U.S. leader in media monitoring. Professionals in a wide range of industries rely on our comprehensive curated content from local and national print, online, broadcast, and social media sources. BurrellesLuce has a turnkey copyright compliance program that allows us to provide copyright-compliant, behind-the-paywall content not available to other services. BurrellesLuce combines grade-A content with easy-to-use software, allowing users to evaluate and analyze their media coverage and PR efforts. It's all integrated into our user-friendly interface, BurrellesLuce WorkFlow™.

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