If the Newspaper Licensing Agency were to run its own cuttings report for the last few months, the results would not make happy reading.
At the end of last year, the CIPR called for the agency – which offers companies the rights to copy and distribute press articles on behalf of publishers – to be scrapped altogether and replaced by a government-controlled body. And only two weeks ago, CIPR head of public affairs Francis Ingham waded into the debate, branding the NLA a 'militant wing of the Inland Revenue'.
The row centres on a belief among PR professionals that the NLA's new eClips service – a central database of electronically scanned articles from 25 national publications based in London – has been set up as a cash cow for revenue-threatened publishers. The CIPR contends that the optional electronic licence for access to the service is effectively mandatory, and press cuttings agencies will have to fork out between £5,000 and £60,000, depending on volume. And these costs will eventually be passed on to PROs.
The NLA has been described by the CIPR as 'arrogant' and as 'acting unilaterally' on the issue, yet what is not often reported is that cuttings agencies are likely to save more than the cost of the electronic licence because they will not need staff to physically scan
the articles in. Also, for the first time, individual PROs will be able to access the eClips database directly via their cuttings agency, paying the standard 8p per copy.
In fact, while much of the coverage has been directed at the potential threat to cutting agencies, one group that arguably has the most to complain about – the evaluation industry – has been resolutely ignored.
According to the copyright rules that the NLA upholds, royalties must be paid to publishers for photocopies of articles sent on to other people.
Just as illegal copying of CDs or DVDs denies the producer of those materials a 'sale', the NLA argues that the same applies if copies of articles from newspapers or magazines are sent to third parties.
Payment terms for such cuttings are predicated on the notion of 'copying and distribution', the scanning and passing on of material drawn from original sources. But the introduction of eClips, planned for April, is a spanner thrown into the works for evaluation companies and they are up in arms.
Their objection runs as follows. In order to allow clients to view an article alongside their measurements, evaluation companies will need to buy an electronic licence from the NLA. Not only do the evaluators believe the licence to be prohibitively expensive, (a minimum of £10,000 on top of the standard 8p per view royalty on each article looked at), they staunchly believe they should not pay for it at all.
Talks last summer between the evaluation trade body AMEC and the NLA failed to provide any resolution on the issue. So with the activities of the NLA under more scrutiny than ever, PRWeek decided the time was right for the NLA and the evaluators to come together and thrash out their arguments in an exclusive round-table debate.
Both the NLA's managing director Martin Stevenson and digital MD Andrew Hughes faced six evaluation heavyweights in the discussion and it was clear from the outset that feelings were running high.
'Our position is very clear, in that we believe we do not distribute,' said Peter Christopherson, practice director at Echo Research. 'We simply receive articles, which we pass on to an analyst, who then takes out information and repackages it as part of our evaluation.
'All we're asking is that we are then able to show that article as a link to a client who may then want to see it,' he added. 'Clients just can't understand why we can't do this for them. It is preventing us from providing a service that clients demand.'
It was a view shared by Fergus Hampton, CEO of Millward Brown Precis, whose comments on the NLA's perceived obstruction were typical of the evaluators' position.
'Our argument is that the work we do in no way threatens the revenue of publishers,' he said. 'Because you [the NLA] see yourselves as preventing unauthorised distribution of content, you will always see us as wanting to distribute when we do not. If you accept that, your role should be helping us to facilitate what we do without charging through the nose for it.'
According to Hampton, evaluators want to 'pop an article online to let clients make sense of the facts we've given them'. But this drew a stern response from the NLA's Stevenson.
'If popping it somewhere is a way of letting people consume it, then that is distribution,' he argued. 'I accept it is on a lower scale, but is still needs an appropriate licence.'
This provoked a collective groan from the evaluators, but Stevenson was undeterred. 'We don't see our role as being preventative,' he continued. 'We would rather be understood as enablers to people who want to distribute content. We want to enable the PR industry to copy and distribute as much as possible – but under licence.'
The evaluators believe they have been shoehorned into a model that works for cuttings agencies but not for them. Agencies can spread the cost of a licence that allows them to show electronic clippings over many thousands of searches, but this service is not evaluators' core business. The licence is required, they say, to satisfy clients who may ask for the service at any time, but the cost cannot be spread effectively.
'It's evident you've catered for the largest market, and evaluators don't fit in,' says John Curtis, managing director of Media Measurement. 'Our problem is that evaluation is always a retrospective requirement. Clients using our evaluation may want to compare and contrast with stories from a year ago. It is ludicrous to have to say to clients: "We can provide you data on all your coverage, but you can't see the article".'
At this, Curtis raised the associated problem of 'archiving'. Currently, scanned articles which are viewable online (either provided by cuttings agencies or on eClips) can only be accessed for seven days without the new electronic licence being needed. And evaluators feel compelled to offer the electronic clips viewing service, as most evaluation comparison takes place after a period longer than seven days.
'It's yet another area where clients can't understand what's going on,' chipped in Christopherson. 'In their eyes, if they buy, say, the FT, they can keep it, put it in a drawer, and have an indefinite archive. But we then tell them they need to pay again to see a clipping along with any evaluation we've done. It means clients are paying multiple times for the same clippings, which runs counter to the idea that digital means cheaper. And clients are telling us all the time they are cutting budget, not increasing it.'
Howard Davies, held of media development at Mediatrack argued that the introduction of eClips will undermine the evaluators' authority. 'We're representing what our clients want as much as what we want. Clients see us as the experts and we want to sort the situation out. But we're stuck and confused.'
Thus far the impression was of two foes implacably opposed, but surprisingly – and for the first time in the eClips saga – the NLA then suggested it was willing to accommodate the evaluators' concerns.
'The pricing for eClips was distinctly optimised for the cuttings agencies,' admitted the NLA's Hughes. 'My understanding is that evaluation does have different requirements, and we are very open to discussing a way that access to data can fit your model and is intelligent from the publisher's point of view.'
The statement prompts eyebrows to be raised around the table. Hughes goes further: 'The archive restriction stems from publishers who supply content to eClips being wary of multiple third-party access to material. What we're announcing is an extension for cuttings agencies to provide links to these articles to client companies for up to a year under a new service called 'My Archive'.
It is charged at a flat rate, not pay per view, at £500 a year. Again, we're prepared to look at ways of opening this client archive up to, say, evaluation companies without cuttings agencies losing any of their business.'
But is this really the deal evaluators want? Paul Hendle, Metrica's media analysis director, is not convinced. 'The fact remains that the model is still fitting us around cuttings agencies and it is us, our clients and PROs buying our services that are left in the dark.'
According to Hendle, a much simpler model exists from the Copyright Licensing Agency – where evaluators can electronically archive content not covered by the NLA's database for 30 days for the same 8p per view royalty and no expensive licence on top. 'The only difference between this and NLA is the huge price discrepancy,' he asserts.
A sign that the NLA was beginning to understand evaluators concerns emerged as Hughes admitted that there was 'massive 'murk' around eClips. He said: 'It's clear we haven't adapted the licences. I see that evaluators have different needs, to put data in and for clients to have archiving rights. I'm not completely clear on what publishers will think, but I now have an indication of where we are starting from. There may well be case for looking at if there is a need for a licence at all.'
It is a remarkable turnaround that in the space of an hour evaluators and the NLA have moved from mistrust and defensiveness to open discussion of compromise on licensing.
'There are indeed problems with the NLA's current system, but this issue also reveals how much the evaluators are expanding their offerings beyond basic measurement,' says Edward Bird, evaluation director at Romeike.
He believes this offers an even greater reason to sort out a workable NLA solution. 'This whole problem reveals PR is playing catch-up with technology. We should really be thinking: "What will the industry look like in five years' time, when the majority of content isn't of clippings, but electronic data on websites to begin with?".'
According to the NLA, having a central digital database is a way of bringing all content together – beginning with scans of clippings rather than stories that originated online.
'The broader point is that the internet allows links to be given to clients to view content and royalties can be made accordingly,' says Hughes.
The evaluators are not swayed. 'We'd spend all day working out links to different databases that hold the content, rather than what we really want to do, which is to host content on our own website,' says Hampton.
First move made
There is still a long way to go to appease all parties in this debate, but at least a first move has been made. 'Having a substantial amount of the UK's press stored in one place [eClips database] with publishers' agreement, a common index and the right access are steps in the right direction,' says Stevenson. 'I now think we have a target to work towards and there is a new sense of willingness from people around this table.'
Hughes concurs: 'As soon as we all accept that clippings/content is digital, with access to it from links rather than looking at PDFs, it then becomes possible to achieve what you want.
'It is possible we could offer corporates links to data from evaluation firms that originates from agency cuttings, avoiding duplication of costs, and allowing evaluators to provide services at no extra cost,' he adds. 'We just have to understand how you differ from cuttings agencies, and from today I am better informed about this.'
As a result of the two sides sitting down to sort out their differences, a verbal agreement was reached to set up a joint NLA/AMEC working party and deal with evaluators' demands directly. That, at least, is good news for client PROs, PR agencies and cutting agencies, who all depend on cost-effective evaluation services to prove the value of their work.
The round-table panel
Fergus Hampton is CEO of Millward Brown Precis, and is a founder and past chairman of AMEC – the Association of Media Evaluation Companies.
Paul Hendle is Metrica's media analysis director and was the company's first employee, joining in 1994.
John Curtis is MD of Media Measurement. Prior to that he was MD of Pitney Bowes and marketing operations manager at Xerox.
Edward Bird is Romeike's value added services director, and outgoing chairman of AMEC.
Howard Davies is head of business development for Mediatrack. Previously he worked at Millward Brown Precis.
Peter Christopherson is practice director at Echo Research. He previously worked in PR, sponsorship, radio broadcasting and TV production.
Andrew Hughes is NLA digital MD . Previously he was at OneSource Information Services
Alternative channels: Factiva
The evaluators expressed the fear that they may not be able to compete with the likes of Factiva and biz360, which bypass the NLA and work direct with 10,000 publishers.
Factiva allows clients to zoom in on graphs of evaluation data and access the clippings relevant to that data without complex licences.
But CEO Clare Hart says evaluators must realise copyright is something they must live with. 'We strongly take the view that content has copyright. Some evaluation companies are now in talks with us, but we are not going to be any freer with distribution than the NLA.'
'What we do is set up extranets where PROs or clients can access this under licence directly. This debate centres more on the tension between paying more for content and how much they bill for consultancy on top of their evaluation. We strongly believe that evaluators still have an important role for client companies, because we don't pretend to offer insight on clippings.'
That said, she accepts that publishers do have to decide what content is genuinely free and what is not. 'If a newspaper has already made a news story available online for free, then I can't see why evaluation companies should have to pay for it, and then get their clients to pay for it every time they look at it. This is a big area of concern.'
In this sense she echoes the fears of Romeike's Bird that the PR industry is playing catch-up. 'I think the world is moving on from just mainstream press cuttings,' she says. 'The information window is much wider. Just looking at press cuttings is time consuming. A much more imaginative way of presenting information could be illustrate coverage by other means such as curves and graphical devices.'