Tablet-based reading services like Google Current and Flipboard — which says it has doubled its userbase to 90 million in the past six months — are a boon for anyone who wants to consume content quickly and easily in magazine-style format. But are they good for publishers? Josh Marshall, founder of the political blog network Talking Points Memo, doesn’t think they are. In fact, he said in a note posted on the site that they are “a scam against publishers,” and that he has removed TPM’s feeds from both services.
Marshall, who started Talking Points Memo in 2000 as a one-man blog and has built it into one of the largest independent political news and commentary sites, didn’t provide a lot of detail in his post about how Flipboard and Currents are scams against publishers, but it’s not hard to figure out what he means — especially since some other publishers, including Wired and the New Yorker, have also scaled back their involvement with Flipboard in the past.
In a nutshell, some publishers see Flipboard (and to a lesser extent Currents, which isn’t as popular with users) as middlemen that piggyback on their content and siphon off value — including a relationship with readers — that would otherwise go to the publisher. In the early days of Flipboard, the company ran into some significant criticism over its model of building a business around the content of others, but some of that has subsided over the past few years.
Flipboard’s response to these criticisms is to argue that it is a partner for publishers — some of whom may not have a presence (or at least not a very good one) on mobile devices like tablets — and that it allows them to reach readers they may not otherwise reach, and then convert them into paying customers. Flipboard also works with some publishers to share revenue from ads inserted in their content, which the company argues is similar to a magazine model.
That said, however, some publishers seem to be growing increasingly restless with the Flipboard model, and want to maintain control over monetizing their content (TPM sells access to its full RSS feeds through its premium TPMPrime service). While Flipboard may be having some success with its reader-curated magazine features, those aren’t going to be quite as appealing if the number of publishers who make their content available starts to dwindle.