AP to impose online fees to member papers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Associated Press will begin charging newspapers and broadcasters to post its stories, photos and other content online, a pricing shift that reflects the growing power of the Internet to lure audiences and advertisers from more established media.
Tom Curley, AP president and CEO, announced the change on April 18 at the annual meeting of the 156-year-old news cooperative.
Most of the 15,000 news outlets that buy AP's news, sports, business and entertainment coverage have been allowed to "re-purpose" the same material online at no extra cost since 1995. At that time, graphical Web browsers were just beginning to transform the Internet from an esoteric computer network to a mass medium.
The new pricing policy, effective Jan. 1, begins to shift some of the funding of AP to the growing online market, as technological advances and digital devices are making it ever easier for people to get their news whenever and however they want it.
"The need for online licensing is clear," Curley said during a speech at the meeting in the Masonic Auditorium, attended by member publishers, editors and broadcasters. "For The Associated Press to endure during this digital transition, we must be able to preserve the value and enforce the rights of our intellectual property across the media spectrum."
But price increases are often a prickly issue for the AP because it's a not-for-profit cooperative that is owned by its customers — the traditional media that form its membership.
The AP expects to offset the costs of the new online licensing fees by temporarily reducing its annual membership rate increases, Chairman Burl Osborne said.
These rates — known within the AP as "assessments" — have climbed by an average of 2.75 percent annually during the past decade.
A formula for calculating the AP's online licensing fees still hasn't been set, making it difficult to predict how the pricing change will affect individual news outlets. Currently, the AP bases its rates on the circulation of newspapers and audience of broadcasters, with the largest paying more than their smaller counterparts.
A digital advisory committee will be set up to ease the transition to online licensing, Osborne said. The committee is aiming to hold its first meeting by fall.
The AP already does significant business online. About 300 commercial Web sites, including popular destinations such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN, buy AP content, said Jane Seagrave, the news cooperative's director of new media markets.
Curley, the former publisher of the Gannett-owned USA Today, has been seeking new sources of revenue since he became AP's chief executive officer in mid-2003.
In Curley's first full year on the job, AP's 2004 revenue totaled $630.1 million, a 6 percent increase from the previous year. The news service's losses narrowed to $728,000 last year after a $11.1 million loss in 2003.
The AP products currently under development include a computer database of stories, photos, graphics, audio and video, designed to make it easier for newspapers and broadcasters to find the content that best suits their local market.
In September, the AP plans to introduce a new multimedia package designed to appeal to young adults, a prized advertising demographic deeply immersed in the Internet and other digital media.
"As the audience turns to new platforms and adopts new habits, the news must follow," Curley said.
Several newspaper publishers at the meeting said AP's new online licensing policy makes sense, as long as it doesn't significantly increase their expenses. "I'd like to see what the total bill is going to be," said David Bradley, publisher of the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press. "I hope it doesn't turn into an onerous burden."
The meeting also featured five AP reporters who addressed trends changing the world, from evolving international alliances to strong currents of change within Christianity.
A bit of drama penetrated the conference hall when religion writer Rachel Zoll addressed the crowd from the Vatican, where she is covering the papal conclave. As Zoll spoke via video link, the crowd in St. Peter's Square could be heard roaring in the background.
"It's black smoke," she said, signaling that the gathered cardinals had not selected a pope during the conclave's first day. "We'll just continue with our speech for now."
Sally Buzbee, chief of Middle East services, spoke about the rise of China and the influence of Shiites in the Middle East; technology writer Brian Bergstein addressed the increasing capacity to archive digital information of all types; science writer Malcolm Ritter warned of the prospects of a global pandemic; and political writer Ron Fournier discussed the emergence of new American "hometowns" centered on churches and social groups.
AP's meeting was held in conjunction with the annual convention of the Newspaper Association of America. Later, at the AP annual luncheon, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was the featured speaker.
Five members elected to AP board; two appointed to two-year terms
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Four incumbents and one new member were elected to the board of directors of The Associated Press in results announced April 18 at the annual meeting of the news cooperative.
Re-elected to three-year terms were Burl Osborne, publisher emeritus of The Dallas Morning News; Michael E. Reed, president and chief executive officer of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.; William Dean Singleton, vice chairman and CEO of MediaNews Group Inc., and H. Graham Woodlief, vice president of Media General Inc.
The new member is Dennis J. FitzSimons, chairman of Tribune Co., replacing Joe Hladky, chairman and publisher of the Gazette Co. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Hladky has served seven years as director and could not run for re-election to a three-year term because it would push him beyond the nine-year maximum specified in the AP bylaws. Hladky will remain on the board, however; on April 16 the board named him to one of six seats it can fill by appointment to two-year terms.
Osborne, who has served on the board since 1993, became chairman in 2002 and, as chairman, is exempt from the nine-year limit.
The board also named David R. Lord, president of Pioneer Newspapers Inc., to a two-year appointive term as director. Lord just completed a three-year term as elected director in one of three seats set aside in the bylaws for members from newspapers published in cities of less than 50,000 population and not affiliated with any newspaper from a larger city. Lord was not eligible for re-election to that seat because two Pioneer newspapers are in communities that no longer meet that requirement.
The Associated Press is a not-for-profit cooperative of U.S. newspapers and broadcasters, a global network providing coverage of news, sports, business, entertainment, politics and technology in all media formats to some 15,000 news outlets in more than 120 nations, reaching more than 1 billion people a day.
On the Net: http://www.ap.org


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