News Reader App Zite Offers Olive Branch to Web Publishers

Zite Chief Executive Mark Johnson said the agreements are a sign that publishers see value in aggregation technology.

A year ago, online news aggregator Zite received a cease-and-desist notice from major publishers including Gannett, Time, The Washington Post and Dow Jones. Zite’s app for the iPad was taking content from around the Web, stripping away the ads and serving it to users free of charge, the publishers complained.

The startup had little choice but to relent, linking to articles in a Web browser rather than repurposing them inside its app.

A lot has changed in 12 months. CNN, the news giant owned by the same parent company as Time, acquired Zite last August. It set out to partner with online publishers, striking deals that would encourage them to share content on Zite’s mobile app rather than block them.

Today, Zite is announcing the first fruits of these discussions. Fox Sports, the Daily Beast, Motley Fool, Bleacher Report and other publishers have agreed to let Zite display their articles in its news reader. In return, the company has updated its app with special sections highlighting the most popular content from those sites. Below some articles, Zite will also advertise a partner publication’s own mobile app. No money is changing hands.

The arrangement is a sign that news publishers are seeing value in technology that aggregates their content, said Mark Johnson, a former Microsoft program manager who became Zite’s chief executive officer last year.

“A year ago, when we got the cease-and-desist, there was concern out there that these news aggregators were just going to take over,” said Johnson. “It hasn’t turned out that way. You use an aggregator, it’s great for discovery, but you’ve still got some favorites you go to as well.”

There’s plenty of work left for Zite. None of the publishers who protested the app last year have agreed to a partnership like the ones announced today (except CNN, which now owns Zite), though Johnson said those conversations continue. In the coming months, the company may also begin selling third-party advertisements alongside the articles in its app, giving its partners a cut, said Johnson.

“I don’t think a model has been settled upon,” he said.

Flipboard, a rival tablet news reader, began sharing ad revenue with publishers last year.


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