This is something I wrote for the blog of the company I used to work for, Free Range Content. A good company, with good people and a good product that hasn’t taken off the way I’d like to see it take off. I have no stock.
What is syndication, really, and why do I want it?
Personally, I learned the word “syndication” in the context of comic strips. Even as a little kid, I understood that comic strip artists needed a “Syndicate” like King Features Syndicate in order to have their work appear in lots of newspapers and therefore make a living. I also understood that often the “Syndicate” owned the artist’s work and various ancillary rights, which gave me the creeps. At some point I learned about the AP, probably from reading 1950s Heinlein and Asimov stories where they talked about news “coming across the wire”. This introduced me to the concept that a reporter can have a story republished in a large number of newspapers as well as the one they primarily work for, as well as the delightful job title of “stringer”, with its whiff of uncertainty and freedom. When I started reading Dan Savage many years ago, his column was syndicated in only a few papers, and not yet online, so if he lost syndication at your local alternative weekly you were SOL for reading his column.
So what syndication means to me is a way to get content to more readers, give publishers good material and help support creators- yet historically, it had some dubious aspects.
When I worked at a startup in SF in ’98, everyone was talking about “content creators”- the new sites springing up every day created a huge “content hole”. Startups needed People To Write Stuff. Then the bottom fell out, and in a little while Web 2.0 culture provided businesspeople with the genius idea of Making Your Customers Make Your Content. Blogging exploded, and people could make content for themselves.
Somewhere in there, traditional syndication didn’t adapt to the speed of the Internets, and without a model for legally and ethically republishing content online, “reposting” without the creator’s consent or attribution became a commonplace thing.
So commonplace, in fact, that there’s a whole business based on policing it.
Why don’t people ask for permission to use content?
Maybe they’re lazy. Maybe they’re jerks. Maybe they’re cheap, and they’re afraid the content creator will ask them for money. Maybe they don’t have time.
I’ve been guilty of all those things in my evolving use of the Internet.
It’s taken me time to learn to go through the thought process so well-depicted here:
(please note that the screenclip above uses Free Range Content, Inc’s free attribution and reposting tool, Curate.Us, which automatically creates a screenshot that links back to the original source of the content, with attribution and tracking always added. I use it because I’m lazy, and it makes it easy to do the right thing.)
So how can people who publish original content get it to as many people as possible, at the speed of the internet, while getting fair credit and compensation for the work they’ve done?
How can people who want quality original content to repost on their blogs and sites get it easily, quickly and affordably?
Well, it’s Syndication Disruption O’Clock at the Free Range Content ranch, and baby just step back and watch the paradigm shift!
What does syndication for the 21st century look like?
It’s instant and 24-7 – no phone call to a rights management bureau on the East Coast that’s only open 9 to 5. Because reposters want a thoughtful, well-researched article on the hot issue of the moment to publish on their sites now, at 3am, not two days later when the news cycle is over.
It’s easy to install- because content creators don’t have the engineering bandwidth to tear apart their sites. Enabling Repost.Us is about as easy as adding a Facebook “like” button.
It’s easy to use- because reposters don’t want to spent time getting syndication quotes and cutting and pasting, reformatting, and adding images to syndicated content. Repost.Us instantly gives the reposter an embed code, which they paste into their site, just like embedding a video. Reformatting to fit the syndicator’s site, matching fonts and resizing images is all done automatically.
It doesn’t screw up publishers’ search results. The embed code loads the syndicated article into the browser of the person viewing the syndicator’s site- so the content never actually lives on the syndicator’s site. This means search engine crawlers see a link back to the original publisher’s site instead of a whole lot of copies of the same content, which dilutes ranking.
It’s flexible. Because as a publisher, maybe you want to give your content away for free, to increase your reach, knowing Repost.Us is taking care of attribution and guaranteeing its integrity. Maybe you want to serve your own ads, because you’ve got a great ad sales team for your niche market (pygmy goats?). Maybe you want to use our ad network, because you don’t have time to think about ads but you’d like some passive income from your hard work, thanks. Maybe you want to set tiered syndication fees, because you know both bloggers who get 500 impressions and mega-aggregators who’ll get 5000 will want to syndicate your content. And you don’t want to sign a syndication agreement or contract, because everybody learned from cell phones that those suck. If you’re a reposter, you want to be able to syndicate content a la carte- as you want it, as much or as little as you need, without a syndication contract.
It’s smart. Our engineers are like most engineers- they hate the idea of non-wheel-specialists trying to build a better wheel. So Repost.Us is set up so that publishers can Bring Your Own Analytics- we add whatever system you’re already using and you can view your syndication data in the dashboard you’re using.
And why do you want it?
If you’re a publisher, because you’re running a business, and that business is not Pay Content Creators Money To Have Their Work Used By Other People For Free.
Because you believe your writers and artists and photographers deserve the biggest audience for their work you can get them.
If you’re a reposter, because you want quality original content for your site or blog, to keep your site fresh and your traffic up and to share the voices and work of people you believe in.
Because you care about credit where credit is due.
Because we all want to do the right thing, and it’s time to make it easy