Is Speed the Tipping Point?

A friend of mine, who is an editorial photo editor/buyer for one of the largest online corporations in news delivery (and software), told me recently of an internal mandate; in securing rights to an image for online publication, if a reasonable attempt has been made for licensing/permissions, but no rights have been secured, then publish anyway. This direction came from the corporation’s legal dept., who weighed the risk of potential settlement of infringement against the demands of immediacy within online news. Speed won.

At first I was alarmed that such a huge corporation would expose themselves, given how risk averse they behave in other areas of rights acquisitions; but then, why not? The use in question, while leaving a long digital tail, has a relatively short duration of exposure to a mass audience. Permissions can be secured after the fact, or at any time throughout use and publication. The question is, is this a canary in a coal mine for how content licensors need to retool their business model that assumes a client will always secure permissions prior to use?

Most content licensors recognize that meaningful KPIs center around the time interval between search, discovery and download. In order to maximize transactional volume and retain a client base unencumbered speed is key. This works fine when you govern your own platform, but not all content is acquired via direct traffic, and points of engagement occur across a breadth of use cases and locations. Licensors are recognizing that a non-scalable infringement pursuit business won’t stand up to market prices on shorter duration uses, and that such a model tips over on volume.

Where licensors can provide immediate and ongoing value is by embracing these user behaviors and recouping fees post-usage. Lowering the barriers around content access will only increase consumption, and modeling fees based on true usage metrics will start to shape true market value – it will also help licensors move the boundaries of their business from simply unit transactions to information on content consumption and wider use across the web in aggregate, which is something far more valuable to media organizations than transacting for use.

Expecting a constant insertion in the transaction process, where the trend around speed and access runs contrary, is something that licensors would be wise to challenge.

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