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The Case for Flipboard

by Anthony Bontrager on December 8, 2010

Recently, I re-tweeted an article on the challenges Flipboard is facing with respect to potential publisher copyright infringement (see “Flipboard CEO’s claim: We’re not building a business “on the backs of publishers”).  In my re-tweet I made the comment “Not Good!” which obviously irked Mike McCue as he responded with a “Not True” comment on my re-tweet.

As I pondered Mike’s comment, I thought I should clarify my position on this, as it may have been misconstrued.

First, anyone who knows me knows I am very vocal when it comes to the rights of publishers to have their works protected from unauthorized duplication or distribution. I have been fortunate in the many ventures I have been involved with to have negotiated critical media distribution partnerships with numerous organizations including NBC, Disney/ABC, Fox, BBC, Bloomberg, Viacom, AP and others.  I believed then, as I still do, that working with the publishers to appropriately license their content has additional ancillary benefits beyond simply getting rights to their programming.  Further, it’s just the right thing to do as they are the owners of the content and it is neither cheap nor easy to produce.

As a result, I have rallied against companies such as ivi, FilmOn and other aggregators who continue to distribute content that they have no legal rights to and who make bold claims as to how they’re different and that the rules the rest of us follow don’t apply to them.  This hurts the content owners as well as legitimate aggregators.

In the case of Flipboard, I stand by my comment to Mike’s admission in the MediaBeat article that Flipboard is likely “violating publisher’s copyrights and hoping they will forgive it.” If the rights to the content have not been obtained, then the content should not be re-distributed whether you’re monetizing it or not.  To do otherwise, is “Not Good.”

However, I believe Flipboard represents a unique opportunity that needs to be explored, and people’s attempt to lump them into a category of rogue content aggregators is equally “Not Good.”

First, I appreciate Mike’s candor in the article and his efforts to build his business in partnership with the publishers and not on their backs.  While others may take “screw you” attitude towards content publishers, Mike seems to recognize that Flipboard resides in a grey area, and that his business is better off embracing content owners rather than pissing them off.  I think the MediaBeat author glossed over this part, which was unfortunate.

Second, content owners or publishers must recognize that Flipboard is essentially an experience.  It’s a unique way to visualize what consumers already have access to via a host of news feeders or social platforms.  Whereas on Twitter we are exposed to links to articles shared by our friends, Flipboard actually images the articles in the experience in a manner that is extremely visually appealing.  The obvious net result is that consumers are more likely to actually consume the content that is shared, rather than glossing over the link title, which is what happens in a majority of cases.

I’m quite certain publishers recognize the benefits that Flipboard provides – increased distribution in a visually appealing manner that should stimulate greater time spent with the content itself.  That’s pretty good in my book but we still need to address the question of compensation to the publisher or content owner.

Now compensation can mean different things to different people.  Various embodiments of this compensation scheme could include:

– Simple exposure and brand extension with engaged consumers through Flipboard’s appealing interface;

– Implementation of a pixel into the image so the publisher actually gets page view or impression credit for views generated via Flipboard, thereby providing lift to the ever important publisher KPI’s;

– Advertising flow through from the publisher alongside their content into the Flipboard experience, thereby ensuring that ad dollars are obtained for the content in question.

Clearly there’s a myriad of ways the content owner can be compensated and benefit from the Flipboard platform without killing that which is keeping content in the hands of consumers in an engaging and unique manner.  In this case Flipboard.  If publishers or content owners are not able to see the inherent benefits of such a partnership, then that my friends is truly “Not Good.”

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