Even as competitors are busy bricking paywalls around their newspaper Web sites, desperately trying to keep the old business models running, the U.K.’s Guardian is taking a wholly different path. The paper has just introduced a free story syndication tool.
The tool is part of the paper’s “Open Platform” initiative, and what it does is pretty amazing: If you’re a publisher of a blog that uses WordPress, you can now re-post Guardian articles directly on your blog. The Guardian is essentially giving away its online news content. For free!
There are some conditions, of course: You have to publish the article in full. You also mustn’t remove or alter any “text, links or images,” so that you preserve the original article with all of its Guardian-sourced editorial goodness. You have to register to get an access code to let you re-publish content, but there’s no fee involved. The articles come with performance tracking code built-in, which you also mustn’t tamper with, but for the privilege of reproducing the content for free this isn’t too much of a price.
The astute observer will be wondering how the Guardian is monetizing this, given that competing papers are busy shutting off free access to their own content on their own Web sites. And the answer is the obvious one: The freely syndicated articles have ads embedded in them (which you must not adjust if you’re republishing–though the Guardian notes you’re free to have your own ads elsewhere on the page to drive your own monetization efforts). So by republishing the Guardian content, you’re effectively multiplying the newspaper’s advertising footprint … and this is how the publication is hoping to make a success of this bold move. If it finds its articles grabbed and republished many times–a situation that may happen as less and less big-name news articles are freely available–then it’ll be able to charge more fees to its advertising partners.
Really, this is quite a bold experiment by the publication. In a time when other traditional news sources are running scared from the big, bad Internets, the Guardian is trying a “grab the bull by the horns” approach, and launching an anti-paywall strategy. Only time will tell if it’s successful.
To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.