But say, you find TPM on Flipboard, decide it’s great and add it to your viewing routine on Flipboard. Probably you just keep reading us on Flipboard. Clearly you like Flipboard or you wouldn’t be using it. So why would you start visiting TPM? You likely won’t. That may be great for you. It’s definitely great for Flipboard. But is it great for us? Not really.
In my experience, this is true of so many online text middlemen. They promise “reach” or “distribution”, but usually, they’re just filling their monetized product with your content for free.
Whenever one of my posts gets a lot of attention, I get “offers” to “syndicate” my post from places like Business Insider. It’s worded as if they’re doing me a favor, with the usual empty promises about “reach” or “exposure” (as Josh cites). I agreed to a few of these in the past when I was more naïve, but they never sent a meaningful amount of traffic back to my site, and my audience never grew noticeably in their wake. As far as I can tell, they never accomplished anything except giving the other publishers free content and competing with my original post in search ranks, actually devaluing it. These aren’t “offers” or “opportunities”, they’re solicitations to give your work away for nothing.
Josh’s position seems to be that for most publishers, permitting a news aggregator to reproduce their full-text feed is like a large-scale version of those “offers”. I’m inclined to believe him: navigationally and conceptually, people who browse in Flipboard are browsing Flipboard, not browsing the individual target sites within it. If you aren’t profiting directly from that browsing (such as with sponsored links right in the feed or articles), I don’t see how you’ll ever see much of an upside.
One of the reasons I’m sensitive to similar comparisons to Instapaper is that it was expressly designed not to have this problem: the vast majority of articles read in it were first real pageviews on publishers’ sites, found by the readers’ own browsing habits. You don’t browse Instapaper — you browse on your own and send to Instapaper. That little structural change makes a huge difference.
Apps like Flipboard aren’t “scams”: they’re just likely to be a bad deal for a lot of the publishers, much like discount Mac software bundles and mass coupon/discount distributors like Groupon. Like all of those, every publisher needs to look through the hype and decide for themselves whether the upside is worthwhile.