Imagine an iPad application that gives you only the articles you want to read. It gathers information on which ones you read and which ones you skip, and is able to cater to your taste. It takes articles from media outlets all over the Internet and reformats them, putting everything in a fluid, magazine format and taking away annoying advertisements.
That's exactly what Zite did, and media companies are not pleased. Several major companies, including Time Inc., The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Dow Jones & Company, and Getty Images have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company, reported All Things Digital.
The application has been available since March 8, according to App Advice. The Canada-based company uses an algorithm based on user reading patterns to formulate which stories will best suit their tastes. Poynter reports that the application was downloaded 120,000 times in the first week.
Unfortunately for publishers, the application takes away the ads and data, which means their content is being used without them receiving any benefit. In response, they sent Zite CEO Ali Davar a cease-and-desist letter. The letter said, "By systematically reformatting, republishing, and redistributing our original content on a mass commercial scale without our permission in your iPad application, Zite directly and adversely impacts our businesses." The letter in its entirety is available here.
Zite has responded by making the articles in the publications mentioned in the letter link directly to their websites. Davar wrote on the site's blog, "Zite is eager to work with publishers in a way that benefits everyone - most importantly end users. We are already talking to some big publishers about doing just that."
Critics of the letter are speaking up. GigOM's Mathew Ingram said, "[R]eaders are looking for better ways of consuming content, and they aren't getting it from traditional publishers. Why not learn from Zite and others like it instead of threatening to sue them?" Poynter's Damon Kiesow said, "We in media should think about what led us to this place, where major news outlets are targeting a company that is creating something they should create: an innovative, personalized news source."
How to utilize and respond to this technology is something over which news organizations are struggling. Other than working with these applications or creating their own, like Ongo, they can also get a tighter grip on their content and make it harder to distribute without their knowledge. This is what the New York Times intended with its paywall.
It is still too early to say what will become the best way for publishers to display their content on tablets and other mobile devices. For now, the fact that applications like Zite are prepared to attempt to work with publishers should be a positive sign.