Paper.Li Looks Good on Paper, but…


I’ve recently been added to a few Paper.li posts. I’d heard of Paper.li but hadn’t used it. I’ve seen quite a proliferation of Tweets like “The Joe Smith Daily is out” that leads to Joe Smith’s Paper.li page. For those who haven’t seen it, Paper.li allows users to collect their favorite content, text, tweets, images, video, etc. into a single page that can be seen by anyone they send a link to. On the surface this seems like a great idea. Kind of like Alltop meets Delicious, meets blogs. Looking a little closer gave me some cause for concern.

When I post a tweet that quotes a source, references a study, links to a story written by someone else, I’m making no revenue. I’m sharing information that I found interesting for free. Most sites encourage this, after all the more people that I tell, the more visitors they get, the more ads they sell.

If I have ads on my blog, and I write all of my own content, I’m perfectly justified in collecting revenue from ads. I’m providing something of value to my visitors, they are giving back by looking at the ads on my site (or not, I don’t particularly believe in the power of display ads), and the advertisers are receiving the chance to generate a lead or spread awareness in exchange for paying me to continue to write content to attract visitors. This is the same model that newspapers introduced in the 1700s, that both radio and television continued.

Now, if I  reposted, say, a New York Times article on my blog, even if I provided a link back to the original, I’d be interfering with their revenue. If I surrounded that article with ads, I’d be offering someone else’s content and getting paid for their hard work. This is my problem with Paper.li.

My tweets, links, and other content, along with that of other folks I know like CC Chapman, Jim Spencer, Edward Boches, Steve Garfield, etc. are being aggregated into a Paper.li user’s post. This in itself is not a bad thing. After all, the farther our content is spread, the more people can gain value from it. Those that click through the links are more traffic for all of the sites where the content is originally published, which means more revenue. The problem is, Paper.li pages serve ads. This means that whether it’s a video, a tweet, or a link to a New York Times article, Paper.li is making money from it. I’m sure the folks at the New York Times and other publications, or content creators don’t feel great about this.

On one hand I understand the draw a single place for a user to share info they find valuable. The issue is, can these sites use content without the creators’ permission to make money? Paper.li is not alone, Digg and other similar sites are doing the same thing. If I used it for personal use only, a dashboard only I saw, I could see appropriateness of advertising, to get paid for providing me with a content dashboard. But the fact that it is outward facing changes the dynamic. Personally I’m a bit concerned that content publishers may take away their sharing features, if they think others are making money from their content.

I’m curious what other content creators, publishers, or just information sharers think about this?

CNN had similar thoughts on Content Farms, while they don’t mention Paper.li, they agree that this kind of link baiting is one of the Top 10 Tech Fails of 2010

15 Comments

on “Paper.Li Looks Good on Paper, but…
15 Comments on “Paper.Li Looks Good on Paper, but…
  1. Great post. I too, wrote a post this morning on paper.li, but from a different perspective — more about “why do people like them??” http://www.rachel-levy.com/not-a-fan-of-the-paper-li-dailies/

    I like your analysis of this. I agree with you, in theory, but isn’t this the same as when people embed content? When I embed a video from YouTube on my site, I’m technically getting the ad revenue, and not YouTube. Same applies for slideshare and any other embeded content. Curious to hear your thoughts on that.

    Also, isn’t the point of content to just get it out there, knowing eventually it will lead back to the source? I sometimes dislike RSS feeds for this exact reason…. someone’s reading my content, and not going to my site. But, in theory, if they like it enough, they’d go back to my site eventually. Hopefully? :-)

    • I do agree with getting content out there. My main concern is how will a bunch of sites scraping content as bait to view their ads effect the policies of content creators? If you’re embedding a video on your blog, unless it’s a minor asset you’re using to illustrate a point, and you’re making cash from it then, yes, you would essentially be stealing revenue from YouTube. However, the difference is that you’re not taking ad revenue from the content creator, just the distributor.

  2. I love the Paper.li papers I subscribe to, but had never even considered what you bring up, which is essentially a copyright issue. You say: “The issue is, can these sites use content without the creators’ permission to make money.” This reminds me of the Google Images thumbnail copyright issue, in which content creators were upset Google was featuring thumbnails of their images, calling it unauthorized a reproductions of their works. Ultimately, Google had to concede to keep the image size as it appears on its host web page, and pull up the web page when someone clicks on the thumbnail to view the image. I’m not sure how this would translate to Paper.li, but it’s something copyright enthusiasts (on both sides) should keep an eye on.

  3. I understand your point of view. I asked Steve Garfield about paper.li at Boston Media Makers. He said he asked others to take him off until he saw his stuff on Guy Kawasaki’s paper.li, which made him think about it. Then Ray Wang over at Altimeter Group included my Twitter address in his paper.li issue, then Jerimiya Owyang’s stuff was included, and it spread from there. I started seeing my Twitter followers and blog traffic increase.

    So I decided to experiment with it. Of the 50 or so responses back, yours is the only negative one. paper.li randomly grabs tweets from my Timeline based on keywords I set up for each issue I create- keywords like digital, media, consumer electronics, mobile. I don’t control what it grabs and places in issues, it’s an algorithm.

    It grabs only people I follow who have put “links” to other sites in their tweets. Most are to content sites. The paper.li issue then shows the beginning of the story and your photo (linkable back to you). If a person wants to read more- they click the story and go to the full story on the publishers site, where THEIR ads are hosted. They get paid. If they click on your photo, they go to your site, where YOUR ads are hosted, you get paid.

    Your original question to me was “@randygiusto your link shows the original article, not a link to me. So, you’re using me to collect content for your page. Who gets ad $$?” But you tweeted a link to someone else’s’ content! Fortune’s i believe. So they got paid if the person clicks through.

    Now, if you tweeted a link about content on your site (a recent blog post for example), they go to your site and you get the ad revenue. Every site, every email, every scrap of wall at an airport, stadium, whatever has ads these days. Every social media tool has ads these days.

    The bottom line is that paper.li drives awareness of you- if you publish a paper, or if your posts end up someone’s paper.li paper, and content providers, as it gets the word out and drives people back to the original site of content, where the ad revenue is realized.

    So Twitter now has sponsored ads, in your timeline, but you still use it.

    As an industry analyst who follows social tools as well as other market segments, I see paper.li as the new tool on the block. If you don’t want to be part of it, I’ll unfollow you, say the word. But you’re going to have to watch how many of your other Twitter followers use it, because it’s really taken off. It’s like Flipboard on iPad, which is the #1 social app in the app store. You should look at that too because it’s doing the same thing with your tweets if your followers are using it, and it hosts its own ads too.

    I also notice the ads on these platforms are from big companies like Cisco, HP, and IBM, so they are blanketing the NYT, Forbes, paper.li, and Flipboard. I think they are covering themselves just fine.

    • Randy,
      So essentially you’re saying that you don’t do any work other than put in keywords. I guess it’s not really your daily then…
      My question to you about who gets $$ still stands. I read an article on Fortune, they get paid for the fact that I viewed the ads on their page. I tweeted their link which drove traffic to their site, more ad revenue, but I didn’t make any money from it. You reposted, or had a program do it for you, my Tweet in your daily, which was then Tweeted. Visitors to your daily saw the ads on it, so Paper.li just got paid from Fortune’s content.

      My concern is that publishers like Fortune may start to rethink allowing users to Tweet their content if they think that someone else is making money from it. Currently Fortune is publishing content in exchange for ad revenue. I’m sharing their content in a way they intended, and have permission to do since they offer “Tweet This” buttons. The sharing does not generate ad dollars for me.

      What would be the differences if I Xeroxed a bunch of Boston Globe articles, trimmed them a bit and sold them in my own newspaper?

      So, my main issue is that someone is making money from scraping my content, and that of my source.
      My second issue is that it’s a lazy man’s blog.

      As for Flipboard, I believe I mentioned them along with Digg in my blog as those skating the line of copyright infringement.
      In terms of your last statement, that it’s big guys that are selling ads on Paper.li: if Microsoft is buying an ad on Fortune to target a specific audience, how do you think they’ll feel to see the the exact same content next to an ad for Apple?

      I think you’ll see some changes to these services once they get large enough to make a real dent in a publisher’s revenue stream.

      There is a simple solution though (WARNING: I’m giving away a unique business concept should someone choose to jump on it):
      If publishers had an API for sharing their content that made sure that when it was published through other platforms, it would pull in the same ads as on their original site. So, they Cisco ad on Fortune, would be pulled into your Paper.li. Then publishers could demand that if anyone is sharing their content in a space that allows ads, they can still get revenue from it. Of course this could also offer the opportunity for revenue sharing in exchange for extended distribution.

  4. Paper.li is definitely getting into the gray area, by using excerpts from webpages. My personal feeling is that the way they use excerpts is already going a bit far. Typically they’ll include 3 sentences, and if the sentence is too long they’ll truncate the second and third.

    Fair use is subjective and rather complex, but I think paper.li’s use of content oversteps fair use. It would be one thing if they were putting the excerpts in the context of commentary. For example, on my interactive tea review website, RateTea.net, I pull brief commercial descriptions or excerpts of the descriptions for each tea — for the purpose of offering commentary on how teas match this description, and the content is richly tied into a network of user-generated reviews and carefully-researched information on the styles of tea and regions of tea.

    If I were just pooling commercial descriptions of tea and listing them, I’d be violating copyright. And…accordingly, I do not show the commercial descriptions in search results or on pages that have no other content.

    The problem with paper.li’s use is that they offer no commentary, no other content. I think that’s not allowed under fair use. All they’re adding is a newspaper-like layout.

    But it would be hard to crack down on them because they allow you to remove yourself from their thing. But…it’s not sufficient to have to “opt-out” of copyright violation. It’s a clever ploy to avoid legal action by individuals, while keeping doing what they’re doing on a large scale. I think people could bring them down with a cleverly executed class-action suit. If the company had enough money, it might be worth it for the lawyers alone, and I wouldn’t mind lawyers making a bit of money to enforce what I see as the correct interpretation of the law for once.

  5. I am a PR person so I should have no problem with the self promotion attributes of Paper.Li BUT sometimes I think it’s a bit over the top gathering other peoples musings and promoting it as your newspaper.
    It never hangs together like a proper publication, as with Twitter it’s a bit random.
    Photo content is interest one, if I take a shot and Tweet it I must be happy to share the image. I use Twitpic http://twitpic.com/photos/QmPR all my photos here and hang together cause the link is me, I took them & shared them.
    BUT when someone else shares them in Paper.Li they are in a different context and make even less sense.
    So the biggest problem I have with Paper.Li is context – might be just me?
    Regards, Jo

    • Jo,
      But is Paper.li self-promotion for you? None of the content is yours, you’re merely allowing Paper.li to scrape content of others you follow. So, really, it only promotes the fact that you follow interesting people on Twitter. That’s not really a value proposition is it?

  6. After seeing my Twitter username pop up as a contributor in a number of these ‘Daily’ newspapers I was confused since I hadn’t written any of these articles. The articles had been written by the NYT and other reputable papers, who should rightly be aghast that someone was posting on Twitter that I was contributing to their content. The paper.li intellectual property statement http://paper.li/ip.html makes it clear that this is nothing more than another attempt to collect ad revenue and if you catch us copying your copyright content we’ll look at it without admitting that we ever had any intent to do anything other than pay our lawyers to keep us out of trouble.
    Sure more people are finding my name on the internet and for that some would be happy. After all, isn’t that what social media is all about?

    The bigger reality is that anyone can retweet my tweet and then I can show up anywhere as a contributor next to some very poor content, completely out of context, because these ‘Dailies’ are nothing more than feed aggregators without conscience or responsibility for their content.

    I believe that the market will find its own level and the value of copyright will be left up to the market forces. In the mean time this looks like one more avenue for the social media experts to deploy to get your name on the internet to build your brand. Personally, I don’t believe all press is good press, especially when it violates someone’s copyright.

  7. I came across this post because I was today mentioned in a paper.li tweet by someone else and I wondered what it was all about. Having looked into it at first I saw on a paper.li paper an excerpt from an article I had written and a link back to that article. For me I feel that this is not a problem. Paper.li does not display the whole article so if anyone wanted to read it they would have to click on the link and go to my article where my ads are served (some of the time). OK so there are ads served on the paper.li site but the page has a whole lot of articles so it is difficult to say that any ad revenue there is taking away from anyone else in particular. I think these sites could be quite useful to someone who is looking for news on a particular topic, especially if it is something specialised that they would have to search for otherwise.
    Anyway, it is yet to be seen if the big guns object to this ‘scraping’ but for me and extra link to my content, with only a teaser sentence, is fine.

    • Paper.li is certainly a great service for content consumers, but from a content creator standpoint, not so much. Think about this: say you are a graphic designer. You create a lovely portfolio to show off your work. Then, another design company embeds your design screenshots on their site, gives you a little credit. Visitors are seeing the work and assuming it’s theirs.

  8. I write a news website and get very fed up with paper.li. Yet another sucker gimmick which makes a lot of money for paper.li and advertisers and nothing for journalists who do all the research and writing. Not even any money for the silly people spending time using it to aggregate news.
    Some would argue a link on paper.li could lead more traffic to my site. But since I am a qualified journalist writing for a company’s site and get a fraction of the pay I used to get 4 years ago for doing it, while this may make more money for the company I work for it does not make any more money for me the writer of the stories.
    I consider that unfair because while I am happy for it to make more money for my company I don’t think its right that my material is taken out of my hands by a stranger and lumped with other material I may not be happy about. I have in effect lost control of my copy. As a professional only I should be able to specify through signing a contract what publications use my copy.
    Some people are no doubt using paper.li because it gives them a buzz as if they are an editor/writer. I would like them to be aware that only a journalism qualification and years of hard graft turn you into that.
    People making paper.li sites wouldn’t last a day in the real world of journalism.
    If they don’t believe that I suggest they actually go out and attempt to research and write all those stories they are effectively stealing from hard working people every day to create ‘a publication’of their own.
    If you want to write your own personal version of ‘the world according to me’ do it in your own words then you can say you are a journalist.

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