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New Sapa twist: news sites to haemorrhage content, lose readers?

When the South African Press Agency (Sapa) closes its doors on 31 March, news sites across the country could face a massive content crisis. The news wire service has sent out a letter to its subscribers requesting that news sites across the country delete Sapa content from their archives.

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This could mean sites across the country would face traffic drops and advertising revenue declines. News sites rely on their digital archives to generate traffic and advertising, usually via network advertising services such as Google Adsense.

The 77-year-old service announced that it would be shutting down in early February, although the decision to close up shop had been made as early as November 2014.

The directive to delete is aimed at all media, excepting for TV and radio broadcasters, who are required by ICASA to keep content for one month after broadcast. It will however hit online news sites particularly hard.

In the letter, Sapa says that content “must be deleted from all subscriber media platforms, as well as archives, and storage facilities” by midnight on 7 April 2015. It’s not just Sapa-branded wire copy that will be affected either. It will also apply to copyrighted AP, AFP and dpa content supplied through Sapa’s news subscription service.

Read more: 24.com steps into the Sapa void, launches news agency

While breaking news is a major source of traffic for online news sites, they also rely on legacy content to bring in traffic. Deleting a significant portion of that content could have massive implications for that legacy traffic. Revenues could take a hit, notably from Google ads on legacy content. This is especially true for sites that have relied on Sapa content to make up for limited resources. But even publishers with investigative credentials are likely to be hit hard.

According to Mail & Guardian editor-in-chief Chris Roper, the requirement could wipe out a “big chunk of our long-tail traffic, and it would mean that many of our related links, or packages that include Sapa content, are compromised”.

Roper does however believe that it will be less of a problem for sites like the Mail & Guardian because it tends to focus on original stories, using about 75 Sapa stories a month. That number, he says, is “not a lot for a 24/7 news site”.

There are also questions around how feasible it is for sites delete all their Sapa content and whether the requirement will be enforceable once the wire service is shut down.

Roper says that the Mail & Guardian has calculated that it would take three days to delete the content from its CMS and front-end. The impact on other sites would be proportional to the amount of Sapa content they use.

The news comes amidst a number of media houses, including News24 and Times Media, announcing plans to launch their own news wire services.

According to Sapa, the requirement for subscribers to delete content “is as a result of Sapa subscription agreements specifically excluding usage rights after the end of the agreements, usage rights in perpetuity and outright purchasing of copyrighted Sapa, AP, AFP and dpa content”.

Sapa’s own archives are to be sold as part of the winding up of the company. The news wire says that “information on the sale of the content archives will be made available in due course”.

Updates to follow…

Find the full text of the SAPA letter below:

To: All subscribers

March 12, 2015

Dear Subscribers,

Closure of Sapa on 31st March 2015 and deletion of all Sapa content

Our letters to all subscribers of 5th February 2015 advising of the closure of Sapa, and of the 26th
February 2015 confirming the cancellation of all subscription agreements at midnight on 31st March
2015, refer.

We would like to remind all our subscribers that all Sapa copyrighted content, including copyrighted AP, AFP and dpa content supplied through Sapa’s news subscription service, must be deleted from all subscriber media platforms, as well as archives, and storage facilities by midnight on the 7th April 2015, excepting for TV and radio broadcasters who are required by ICASA to keep content for one month after broadcast. In these cases, content may be stored for record keeping purposes only but must be deleted by midnight on 30th April 2015.

This requirement is as a result of Sapa subscription agreements specifically excluding usage rights after the end of the agreements, usage rights in perpetuity and outright purchasing of copyrighted Sapa, AP, AFP and dpa content.

Sapa’s content archives form part of the company’s asset register and as such are to be sold as part of the winding up of the company. Information on the sale of the content archives will be made available in due course.

Yours sincerely

Mark van der Velden

Editor

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