Newspapers are giving away half their archive revenue to database vendors, according to Peter Krasilovsky at Borrell Associates.

I can see why this serves the need of the vendors, but I don’t see how this serves either the reader or the publisher.

The disservice to the reader is obvious. It means that they can’t count on your content being available to them over the long run. It also means that they can’t count on links to your site from blogs and other sites to remain active.

The disservice to the publisher is less obvious, since they are getting what looks like free money. What are the costs and what do they lose?

  • It’s generally not free to get the information into these databases, nor to keep it there. How much overhead (both hard and soft) is associated with this activity?
  • Stories in archives are not indexed by Google. No one can find them unless they come to your site to do it. Are you sure they’ll be able to find you?
  • As blogs and other personal recommendations become more important, you’re losing all the traffic they represent.
  • You also lose something less intangible–the credibility (expressed in terms of Google PageRank) that comes from lots of links.
  • You’re losing potential advertising revenue. Even if you’re not selling out your ad space yet, this will be an issue in the near future.

Google is a better way to search your site than your proprietary search engine (which are designed for fielded data and searches by professional librarians). Over time, blogs and other web sites will build up an infrastructure of links, references, and context that will improve the quality and access to information on your site. Links and the context that surrounds them are superior to any metadata that you or your database vendor can add to your information.

Google is able to search a billion pages in virtually no time at all. How fast is your database, and does it really do a better job of delivering relevant stories?

Print publishers should consider that online-only publishers have not succumbed to the temptation of paid archives. What do they know about online archives that you don’t?