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Yahoo, AP Begin Fee-Based News Archive

Yahoo Inc. and The Associated Press have debuted AP Archives, a fee-based news archive on Yahoo News that is part of an accelerating trend to get revenue for online news content.

Users are charged $1.50 per AP article that is more than 15 days old. Articles can be accessed through keyword searches on Yahoo News for AP articles going back as far as Jan. 1, 1998.

“This time, instead of disappearing from the site, it converts into an archive you can see,” said Chris McGill, director of news and information at Yahoo, Sunnyvale, CA. “It's a new option. There's nothing taken away from our service.”

Yahoo News attracts 14.8 million unique visitors monthly (November 2002, Nielsen//NetRatings) in the United States to read news from 70 sources that Yahoo has partnered with.

Only one other publisher, The New York Times Co., offers access on Yahoo News to articles more than 8 days old for $2.50 apiece or in larger purchase packs. The Times articles are available on nytimes.com as well.

AP's archives include about 1 million stories, headlines, photographs, slideshows, audio cuts, visual clips and interactive roundups. The content is free for 15 days.

AP, which serves 15,000 news outlets, and Yahoo will split the revenue from archival sales. The organizations would not disclose the terms.

“It's the first major deal we've done with a portal for access to our archives,” said Tom Slaughter, vice president of AP and director of AP Digital, New York. “We hope to do more deals with other people.”

AP has a thriving archival business with partners like Lexis-Nexis, which charges thousands of dollars for access to its collection of articles from the world over. But that is on the professional side.

Though Slaughter was reluctant to disclose numbers, he said archival sales to consumers accounted for less than 1 percent of AP's total revenue.

“For AP, this is an extension of our primary business as a wholesaler of content,” he said. “We hope that it is an extension that grows and turns into something meaningful. Clearly, the technology makes it easy. Technology no longer is a barrier to doing this as it was five to 10 years ago.”

Publishers like The New York Times and Pearson's Financial Times are among the vanguard in charging for older articles. Others like The Wall Street Journal Online prefer a flat subscription fee for access to new and old articles. But even they grapple with cost-benefit issues.

“How do content providers and their partners position that content in a way and price it in a way that makes consumers comfortable going ahead and making that purchase?” Slaughter said. “I think that's the thing that a lot of us are still wrestling with, and I think hopefully ventures like the one that has just been signed with Yahoo are a step in that direction.”

A paid-archives business is not lemons for lemonade, either. A key issue looms before publishers and even content aggregators like Yahoo. The Internet, especially news sites, largely has conditioned users to receive content for free. So does a viable consumer market exist for paid archives?

Even if so, once there is a whiff of success, publishers will pile in and a price war is sure to ensue. Then, of course, there is the question of the commodity nature of news itself.

“The new part of news of what's happening today is not ownable,” McGill said. “If there's a major event, it's going to be covered by many sources. But archives are ownable. Pricing that research as a premium service [is possible], and that's what other publishers are doing as well.”

Content publishers who proceed with paid archives online must go through a number of hoops to construct a clean archive. For example, publishers must eliminate duplicate stories. They must ensure that the latest version is the one in the archive. And errors in stories must be remedied and only the corrected version listed.

“The question for us is, how far back does it make sense economically to go back and clean up our archives,” Slaughter said, “and I think this venture with Yahoo will help give us some direction on that point.”

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