News Analysis: NLA's eClips sparks controversy

The Newspaper Licensing Agency's planned digital database of all newspaper cuttings - eClips - has rattled PROs and cuttings firms.The NLA and industry figures offer frank assessments of its creation to Dan Bloch.

MARTIN STEVENSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NEWSPAPER LICENSING AGENCY (NLA)

'We are producing a central database - NLA eClips - taking newspaper material from production departments, allowing PROs to connect directly to the material. We are doing it to increase the quality of available digital clipping services by making the current scanning process unnecessary, extend the breadth by offering News International material for the first time, and expand the depth by providing a bigger archive.

'PROs will have (digital) access to News International material and the option of archiving clippings for the first time. For press cuttings agencies (PCAs), it enables them to offer a better service to their customers. The net extra cost for PCAs of using the database will vary between £5,000 and £60,000 a year, on top of a scanning licence, which costs £10,000 to £40,000 a year, and per-copy fees. But these costs are less than our estimate of the cost savings from using the service. The situation at each agency will determine whether or not savings offset the costs. We won't compel them to use it.

'The service is designed to support PCAs. We are not trying to sell it direct to PR agencies. The database initially will only contain the 25 London-based newspapers, whereas PCAs can provide cuttings from several hundred regional and trade publications. We dealt with the issue of confidentiality in discussions with PCAs. We would not find out or need to know who has been reading what content. Searches are conducted on their own databases, which we feed the text into. On consultation, we gave outline proposals to the CIPR in January and discussed setting up a working party in April.

'We never gave assurances that we would consult the industry before announcing proposals. But we are open to dialogue and PROs are welcome to attend a joint event with the PRCA on 13 July at the Financial Times head office, 1 Southwark Bridge, London to raise concerns. Two PCAs will test a beta version of the system next week.'

FRANCIS INGHAM, HEAD OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, CIPR

'The NLA met us in January, but its attitude was very negative - it took the line that its proposals were self-explanatory. After the meeting I wrote to the NLA to say we were extremely unhappy. The same month, it sent us the proposals. I wrote back with our concerns and received no reply.

'The working party was set up in April to establish the long-term reasons why PROs have problems with the NLA and to examine the detail of the NLA proposals before they were implemented.

'The NLA claims it is consulting. But we thought this would happen before the NLA press-released the initiative. What is the point in engaging with it if it acts unilaterally?

'It would have been better had PROs given their concerns before the announcement. Our members deeply mistrust the NLA because of its arrogance and the way it operates. Its actions have reinforced the perception that it can't be trusted. We are not ruling ourselves out of the consultation, but our members are seriously unhappy.

'On the costs of eClips, I've spoken to five PCAs in the past eight months. They all say it will be an additional cost. If PCAs don't pass this on to clients initially, at some point they will.'

PATRICK BARROW, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, PRCA

'The NLA hasn't addressed all the industry's concerns. What it has said is undoubtedly true, but I suspect it is not the complete story.

'The service's convenience, higher quality and the ability to archive stories are undoubted advantages.

'But, although the NLA claims no one is obliged to use eClips and that it is a commercial service, it does establish a measure of control for the NLA. So it is not an altruistic measure to help the PR industry. Ultimately, it is about controlling revenues on behalf of newspapers, which is fair enough.

'The cost may well be below the aggregate cost of a conventional cuttings service, but the direction of the price in future can't be guaranteed. It could, in fact, go up.

'I don't think the NLA is mis-selling eClips, but it is emphasising the positive and there remain concerns within the PR industry. That is why we are holding the event on 13 July. There is a general feeling in the industry that the NLA is having us all on. Nevertheless, it has been reasonably open-handed with us at the PRCA.

'The NLA knows how it is perceived, and it is to its credit that through the consultation it has done something about its positioning.'

STEPHEN WHITE, CHAIRMAN, UK MEDIA MONITORING ASSOCIATION; AND MD, DURRANTS

'It's not yet clear what the cost implications will be for large PCAs. If eClips works and is efficient, the service levels are appropriate and it's economical, it ought to be good. But none of that has been proven. The cost could go up. That will be something the industry will have to investigate.

'It's understandable the NLA doesn't want to sell direct to the PR industry. PCAs can offer greater depth - not just in hundreds of publications, but in many thousands.

'Each PCA has to make its own decision on what to do with this service. Newspaper proprietors are anxious about the digital world and want to limit promiscuous distribution of content.

'We are negotiating a new copying licence for PCAs with the NLA. PCAs will have to approach eClips in the context of knowing that newspaper proprietors are very concerned about their digital rights.

'The reaction from the CIPR is understandable. Its members have concerns. The question the NLA has to address is the element of compulsion. The biggest handicap is the NLA's history and the PR industry's problems with it.'

PETER CHRISTOPHERSON, MARKETING GROUP HEAD, ASSOCIATION OF MEDIA EVALUATION COMPANIES

'eClips is offering a limited set of cuttings. It is starting with the nationals and major regionals, which are a very small set of publications.

'Media evaluation companies may have databases with more than 50,000 publications. eClips initially is only going to cover 25, which doesn't really scratch the surface in satisfying the need of media evaluation companies. They would still have to supplement it by electronic and physical monitoring and press-cutting supply.

'I see no benefit from this system unless there is a significant advantage in terms of cost, which I think is unlikely, although I haven't yet had the chance to see the business model for media evaluation companies.

'Double-counting cuttings or missing them is a problem. So getting cuttings from two, or even three, sources is something we have to guard against.

'There is a grey area regarding media evaluation companies about copying and distributing cuttings, in the sense that we get the cuttings, read them then discard them. The NLA has not addressed this historically. With the digital service, I don't see that it has progressed any further on that issue.'

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