Are APIs bailing out the online media industry?

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual M...
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The online media industry is feeling increased pressure to monetize their content on the web. The current battle between Rupert Murdoch and Google is just one example within this game which will put on weight over the next months. Especially newspapers are seeing their offline revenues dwindling and increased online competition – often without a sustainable concept or strategy for a turn around. Marc Andreessen even suggests to shut down the print edition right now and become a pure internet player. Or you see it like Joseph Schumpeter and call it “creative destruction”. In any case, and as most of online media, the newspaper industry has to reinvent itself.

So far the bad news for media companies. The good news is that new technology provides new resources of revenues and distribution channels. Many media companies have launched APIs (application programming interfaces) recently. APIs basically allow the distribution of content & services to other businesses. As some call it “Bus Dev 2.0”, this new distribution channel introduces an additional revenue opportunity:

  • Indirectly: additional traffic is generated through the API which increases revenues through traditional business models, or
  • Directly, when the online businesses charges for the access to the API.

Both business models are certainly valid and make sense. Here is a list of role models, online media (and other) companies who are successfully utilizing the API technology to generate revenues:

Launched in July 2007, NPR’s API is the first major media API that opens up original news and other information for online re-use by other parties.

In the words of Todd Mundt, this creates “Unprecedented flexibility [that] allows anyone, from a blogger in Pittsburgh to KQED in San Francisco, to generate highly specific content searches of the NPR archive (going back to 1995) and port the results to a webpage or an application.”

Beyond exposing the information to over 250,000 produced stories on public radio stations, the NPR API provides lessons learned on particular technical and business challenges and also helps pave the way to a more collaborative and open dialogue with media producers and the public moving forward. It helps to demonstrate that intellectual property rights and mashups do not need to be mutually exclusive. Instead of building legal barriers around the content, there is an alternate opportunity that media producers can embrace: the utilization of APIs as a distribution channel.

The New York Times
The New York Times Developer Network launched the first API in public beta in October 2008. Since then, the media company has launched a set of internal and external APIs, allowing other programs or websites to access its data and services.

It all started with an APIs for article search – users can search for more than 2.8 millions articles since 1981 such as movie reviews, recipes or congressional votes. The roadmap for 2010 includes events, weddings, news feeds and bestsellers.

The New York Times is a pioneer for this technology and many others are copying their model. Hundreds of mashups have been created, including complex visualizations of the origin of Barack Obama’s Campaign finance. The system is expected to increase activity drastically in the future – eventually bringing over 2.5 times more viewers to their content than the website itself.

Expect this to be huge. As soon as the big media companies realize the potential of distributing their content via APIs they will all want to engage. The necessary infrastructure from companies like 3scale is available to make this happen.

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