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I’m amazed that so many food bloggers (Fitzroyalty, Tomatom, Sarah Cooks, Confessions of a Food Nazi (2)) are outraged at the recent publication of Gram. People are crying foul. If you read the into the hysterics, not only has their copyright been infringed but they’ve been violated. It’s as though someone has come into their home, eaten the leftovers out of their fridge, left the toilet seat up and not cleaned up after themselves.
I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at what Gram is; what it isn’t; and exactly why everyone thinks it is such a bad thing.
First, let’s reduce Gram down to it’s first principles. It is 2 things, Advertising and a list of links to blogposts. Each of those links is manifested in the “real” world by a QR code and each link is supplied with a small quote. Clearly the links and quotes are used as what I like to think of as a “transfer medium” for the advertising. There’s no reason you would look at the ads without the content, the same way as you wouldn’t listen to the music without the CD.
I believe Gram creates value for it’s readers by curating the blogposts. They take each of the categories, finding some interesting blog posts, ad a photo and a reasonably nice design and distribute the list for all and sundry. That’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is something. Not only is it something, it is something no-one else in the community is doing. Brian @ Fitzroyalty goes the closest with his local aggregators. He doesn’t curate the actual content, just the list of blogs and I’m sure he prides himself in his open, “everything is welcome” policy.
Secondly, I think it’s important to talk about what Gram isn’t. Forget the hyperbole, there is every chance that Gram is not breaching copyright. I’m no lawyer but a quick perusal of the fair dealings legislation and the copyright obligations suggest that this particular is blurry and I would suggest that pursuing this in court would be a fools game.
So if it might not be illegal, the ethics are certainly worth examining. Are they acting ethically? Are they using a food bloggers work and profiting off it? (If you cast aside the fact they probably aren’t profiting just yet) Yes, they certainly intend to profit from it. Is it unethical? As with every discussion of ethics it isn’t black and white. Sure, they could have engaged bloggers more before quoting and linking to them, but they don’t really have to. I haven’t asked permission to do the same here and I wouldn’t remove a link even if you wanted me to.
In my eyes, the business model is almost identical to that of Google’s, albeit on a much smaller scale. The quotes are of similar length, the user is there looking for something of interest, and the advertising is reasonably separate from the content and both parties provide an opportunity to opt-out. Is Google’s business model wrong? Unethical? Are you willing to block Google from your website. It’s very easy.
Finally the arguments that it is a waste of paper have taken much different paths. The QR codes are stupid, noone will download the app. The quotes are crap. The writing is bad. The design is shit. It’s printed on dead trees. Each of these may be true, but I think instead of poo-pooing the idea, it’s worth looking at it with an open mind.
Is it promoting the blogosphere? Is it validation that what what we as a community create is valuable? Done better, could it be awesome?
Personally, I think what Gram has created isn’t amazing but with a bit of a rethink, it could be great. More and more people will understand what a QR code is, more and more people will know who the featured bloggers are and more and more people might stop only reading the Epicure for their food news.
So, if I were to publish a zine. Would anyone volunteer any of their content? I’d reproduce it in full. I’d link to your blog. I’d write a good sized blurb about you as a writer. I’d use your photo and a photo of you. I’d sell advertising. If I could afford to, I’d pay you. Would you do it if I intended to make money? What if it was explicitly not-for-profit?
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