Publishers from around the world met in Bangkok on Tuesday to take steps to establish a new global forum to share experiences and concerns about how content aggregators and search engines impact their businesses.
The issue is a contentious one, as search engines and aggregators can play both a positive and negative role for publishers, driving traffic to news sites but often using content with no discussion with publishers whatsoever.
Until now, engagement with search engines, aggregators and regulators has generally occurred at the national or regional level, as publishers have little opportunity to meet with colleagues from afar to discuss the issues on a global scale. A meeting Tuesday morning during the World Newspaper Congress, the global summit of the world's press being held in Bangkok this week, seeks to change that.
"We need to create a global forum for the debate and the discussion," said Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which represents 18,000 newspapers, 15,000 online sites and more than 3,000 companies in 120 countries.
As the global organisation of the world's newspapers and news publishers, WAN-IFRA is uniquely positioned to survey the industry and monitor developments from around the world. It organised Tuesday's IP and Copyright Forum, which drew publishers from France, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Belgium, Ukraine and Zambia.
"Organisations like Google have huge means to lobby at the worldwide level. Our industry has to come up with strong positions, or we will lose," said Margaret Boribon, Secretary General of Belgium's French language newspaper association, which has successfully sued Google for copyright violations. "Solidarity at the local level is essential, but solidarity at the global level is a goal as well."
Traditional publishers have been criticised for opposing aggregation of their content by critics who say they don't understand the benefits of digital networks. But both digital content delivery and online business models are evolving, and the discussion has become less one of opposition to one of engagement.
"We are facing a fragmented audience," said Frédéric Filloux, Head of Digital for France's Les Echos. "People are reading our news on a variety of devices and on aggregators as well. We should try to find a way to go where the readers are, and we should go and capture them, as long as a couple of things are respected.
"We should not give up our business model," he continued. "We should be able to find a deal with people like Flipboard, with Google Currents, to plug our paywalls into their systems. The second thing is, we need to be careful that our brands are not diluted. And we should not encourage any unbundling of our content. The sports section and people section are a sort of subsidy for news content, and we need to keep this bundle together."
Ms Boribon put it another way. "Publishers should not worry about the 'man-in-the-street' who shares stories with friends. There is no problem with that. We have to focus on players who are making money from our content."
WAN-IFRA's IP and Copyright Forum is a new informal initiative to provide publishers with a global platform to learn about and understand similar challenges publishers are facing in different markets around the world.