Content syndication can be a blogger's bonanza
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: December 16, 2008
Larry Schwartz, co-founder and president of Newstex, has a bio that could fill a book. Newstex is a visionary company that syndicates blogs and pays creators a royalty. Think of it somewhat like a digital version of the wire services whose stories fill newspapers and magazines around the world.
Schwartz has guided numerous entertainment and new media ventures, including Bolenka Games Online (Trivial Pursuit Online), GFI Group (Nasdaq:GFIG - financial), Wizard World (publishing), Patron Technology (technology), and Tickets.com. He was also president and CEO of Auctions.com. Schwartz was featured in the official history of eBay, 'The Perfect Store' by Adam Cohen. Cohen detailed Schwartz's attempts to purchase eBay for Times Mirror, and his subsequent competition with eBay on behalf of the newspapers.
A graduate of Bates College and Yale University Graduate School of Drama, Schwartz serves on the Content Board of Directors for the Software Information Industry Association. He is a frequent speaker on content, product development, start-ups and turnarounds. When he's not adding value to content, Schwartz is a show manager for hunter/jumper horse shows, is on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Horse Show Association and maintains several horse web sites and blogs (www.chsaonline.com, www.sweetwaterct.com). A confirmed gadget geek, he also spends time on Broadway with his theatrical agent wife and two daughters.
After signing a contract for my own blog syndication with Newstex, I saw abundant possibilities for serious bloggers. The contract is sound, paying a reasonable royalty and reasonable terms. Schwartz agreed to a Q&A for Web Savvy. Read on and see whether your blog is a good fit for syndication.
Q: Some might call Newstex visionary because in the four years you've operated, the potential for content aggregation has grown exponentially. What gave you the idea to start the company?
Schwartz: My partner Steve Ellis and I were brought in to turn around a public company called Comtex in 2002, and were first exposed to the world of content aggregation and syndication. At the time I was shocked that companies would pay substantial fees to license content, especially press releases. We left Comtex in early 2004 and were moving on to another venture when customers and vendors we had met asked us to take a look at the market … perhaps we could create a new company to reinvent content aggregation. At the end of 2004 we started Newstex with the concept of being a low-cost operator. We outsourced everything we could, built our technology on open source software and decided not to have any offices. We created a virtual company with no physical assets. This was years before the term "cloud computing" became popular. We started with traditional news syndication, wire services, newspapers, etc. Our real breakthrough came when we realized blogs were commentary on the news and were going to be an important voice in the conversation. Now we are the only company licensing and aggregating full text blogs. I always like to point out we are also the only company treating bloggers like publishers. We pay the bloggers a royalty and every month we send out thousands of payments via PayPal, ACH [automatic clearinghouse, electronic processing] or old-fashioned checks.
Q: How selective are you with blogs? What qualities in content and scope do you look for?
Schwartz: We have a team that researches and selects blogs based on topics our customers are interested in. Topics are typically oriented towards business, legal, financial, health, risk management, politics, etc. We do have a few entertainment and sports blogs—but the topics that make money tend to be B2B topics [business-to-business]. Bloggers can also submit their blogs for consideration at www.newstex.com.
We have an editorial team that reviews every blog we contract with and they are looking for frequency of posting (at least 2 posts per week), length of post, quality, viewpoint, topics, etc. Blogs that have too many personal posts are typically rejected … our audience is the business world and reading a personal diary doesn't cut it.
We are also looking for original material—many blogs tend to "cut and paste" quotes from other blogs and add a sentence or two—our customers have a very conservative view of "fair use" so the more your content is original the better.
With the launch of our Video On Demand product we are looking for video bloggers. This is challenging our editorial team to put in place new rules for what videos we will accept especially around "fair use" of copyrighted material. Again, videos oriented to business or political topics tend to do well. That said, one of our top videos is WineLibraryTV.com which covers wines and is very entertaining.
Q: What differentiates Newstex from companies like BlogBurst and other aggregators?
Schwartz: Newstex is the only company that licenses the full text of a blog for our customers which tend to be closed networks like LexisNexis or Amazon's Kindle. We provide the full text of the blog post to our clients including the hyperlinks back to the original blog post. We pay the blogger each month based on the equivalent of page views or story views from each of the services we license their content to. The monthly blog royalty is the classic long tail. Our top bloggers are generating thousands of dollars per month in royalties and we have many blogs that are earning $25 or less. The bloggers who are at the end of the tail seem to be the happiest. When we send them a check for $25, it validates their blog and someone was willing to pay to read their content.
Another big plus of our service is we are distributing blog content to the "influencers" in the media, business and financial worlds via such services as LexisNexis, ProQuest, Gale, NewsBank, Thomson West, and Amazon's Kindle. Researchers are using these services and discovering blogs they never knew about.
Q: Many believe news aggregators are the wave of the future where content distribution is concerned. Do you agree?
Schwartz: I believe news has become a commodity. You can read news anywhere now for free amp;#8230; for the "Net Generation," news has lost its authority. I think opinion and commentary have become more important—but you need news in order for commentary to have something to write about. A unique ecosystem has formed where news is created by many sources and commented (and linked back) by an even larger group.
Aggregators are falling into 2 groups—those that mash up the news and provide links back to the original material and pay with linked traffic, and companies like Newstex that license the full text from the publisher and pay royalties in cash. Both will still exist years from now as many companies need the full text to embed in their databases for private networks and products.
The more troubling trend is the value of news steadily declining as the Net Generation doesn't see value in paying for an authoritative source. For them Google News is just as good as the The New York Times or Washington Post. The question is when these organizations can't afford to create the news—who is going to do it? Citizen journalism?
And the other big question is who or what is a journalist anymore?
News aggregators are only the wave of the future if there is good content to aggregate. Even in the blogosphere, brands have emerged and they outsell non-branded blogs by a large volume. I think we need to focus on where will the news and commentary come from in the future and how will we know the authoritative nature of it. Who's telling the truth and has the right facts?
Q: Are you looking for any particular category or type of content right now?
Schwartz: Right now we are focused on legal and risk management blogs—also international blogs, especially from Europe, are a big focus for one particular client. We are also ramping up our video licensing for all types of video material.
Q: Will you continue to grow Newstex insofar as using applications like Twitter or in any other manner?
Schwartz: We continue to grow Newstex around great content. We started with news, moved to blogs and now video. I love Twitter and to me it is just an extension of blogging—shorter and more concise.
We are also big believers in cloud computing. For our new video product, we used Amazon's AWS cloud computing service which provided a very low cost way to launch our Video On Demand product. I think this is a game changer for small companies who can now purchase computing time like electricity and compete with much larger companies for less dollars.
Q: What advice would you give to a new blogger seeking to become part of your syndicate?
Schwartz: First, you must blog about something you are interested in and passionate about. Second, blog frequently and make sure your posts are at least 400-600 words. Too short and our clients' search engines can't index the post properly. Whatever topic you choose to blog about, make sure your blog stays focused and doesn't wander off into other topics unrelated. Funny or personal posts once and awhile are fine, but percent of the content should be on topic.
Video is the future so start now—create video posts or your own channel on YouTube or Vimeo.
Q: Do you have any favorite blogs? Would you share what you like about those?
Schwartz: Many … I read around 100 blogs a day. Since I'm a geek at heart I like reading TechCrunch, Gizmodo, and Engadget. I've been reading a lot about Cloud Computing and enjoy CloudAve. My local weatherman has a great blog about his life —Geoff Fox. Lots of content-related blogs like Content Matters, PaidContent, and Content Bridges. Since I'm a Yankees fan I read LoHud Yankees Blog everyday. I also have home delivery of 4 daily newspapers that I read each morning … I still like to read print and discover new articles.
--Posted Dec. 16, 2008
Our next Web Savvy focuses on Internet tips and tools to promote your poetry book. Learn how poet A. M. Juster, whose 'The Satires of Horace' just published through a university press, is finding readers.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.