Digital Syndication Explained: Q&A With Madavor's Matthew Martinelli

Digital content syndication has been around for a while and is gaining traction in the industry. Unlike traditional syndication, where writers are monetarily compensated by a service that sells the content to various outlets, digital syndication is essentially run as a barter system, allowing free or revenue-share based reuse of web-based content such as blog posts, news articles and videos on third-party websites.

The value, according to digital syndicators, is marketing exposure for the writer’s materials and the site's brand to a larger audience, linking back to the original site, and/or a revenue share.

Is this the syndication format of the future? Matthew Martinelli, content director, Madavor Media, offers his insights into where digital syndication is today and where it is going.

Charlene Weisler: Explain the framework of digital syndication. What is the current lay of the land? How does it differ from legacy syndication?



Matthew Martinelli: Our legacy content is usually accessed by libraries and universities, most of it being our titles that have some niche interest: JazzTimes, BirdWatching, The Writer.

For this, digital issues of our print magazines tend to be in demand. Years ago, it would be wire syndication, where perhaps Cox Media Group or some other media wire would run some stories or columns on its wire, which was accessible to any publication that paid for access.

Digital syndication, however, is far better for news-focused websites since it’s a real-time story that’s being accessed and disseminated. And for our syndication agreements with Nordot and MSN, we get a price per click. If a hot story gets in front of the right eyeballs, that can be a win-win for publisher and syndicator.

Weisler: How does digital syndication work in content ownership? Does the initial creator generally own the rights, or does it vary?

Martinelli: As a publisher, we own the rights to the story/image, and we grant the syndication company rights to use it or find a partner who will syndicate it. Then, we split up the ad-related revenue based upon an agreed share.

Weisler: Does the owner of the content have access to data from the syndicator or client company? If so, what is generally available?

Martinelli: Yes, we have a dashboard that allows us to track what story gets what clicks on each site.

Weisler: What are the advantages of digital syndication for the various interested parties?

Martinelli: One advantage is your brand can find new audiences. If someone is visiting MSN or sees a Nordot widget, then they might see a piece of content from one of our sites that they were unfamiliar with.

In so many ways, social media can be preaching to the choir after a while. It’s hard to find new sites or voices on Facebook or Twitter, but with syndication, you’re possibly reaching an audience that might not be familiar with you. If they end up liking your stories, then you might have just gained a loyal follower.

The other advantage is, it’s an additional source of revenue. There’s no million-dollar solution to publishing woes, so you need to make up for it with 10 little ideas. Syndication is one of those ideas. It can’t support a publisher on its own, but it can help add a little bit of revenue, which hopefully can help in the long run.

Weisler: What are the negatives or pitfalls for the various interested parties?

Martinelli: It’s not appearing on your own site, so it can be hard to work with any custom plugins for galleries, etc. We ran into this problem, and it was eventually solved, but for a while we stopped sharing a specific story format as it was causing RSS feeds.

Weisler: What are some best practices?

Martinelli: I think you want to be a bit more general with a story that’s being syndicated, since it’s not for a niche audience. But it’s a good idea anyway to make your stories less “jargony” and more accessible.

Weisler: Where do you see digital syndication three years from now?

Martinelli: I think digital syndication will increase. Everyone is looking for an alternative to Twitter, right? But it’s not just looking for a new community. It’s looking for a new place to get your news.

Before Twitter, I personally used Google News as a way to get the latest headlines and stories. And I’m on the hunt for a new aggregator. I think digital syndicators can be one solution to that.

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