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Why Do So Few Publishers Have APIs?

The Programmable Web Directory has just recorded its 8000th API. This is just over a year after it passed 4000, and three months after it passed 7000, recorded APIs. The list is still dominated by digitally 'native' organisations and startups but there is an ever increasing list of more 'traditional' institutions and companies who are recognising the value in opening up their data (as I noted when I last wrote about the subject). 

Back in January, the Directory wrote about news publisher APIs, noting at the time that there were only four - The Guardian, New York Times, USA Today, and NPR (excluding Associated Press and Reuters as they are not classic publishers). They also noted at the time that progress in creating APIs from this sector had been slow. Since then, there looks to have been two additional news publisher APIs - one from the Washington Post for a political speaker database, and one from German newspaper Zeit Online. Yet it remains a very small proportion of global news publishers and progress remains decidedly slow. The only magazine publisher that I could find with an API was Nature.

This surprises me for a few reasons. It means that publishers are unconvinced by the benefits of opening up their data, despite the fact that a growing list of companies from a broad range of sectors disagree. As the post points out, embracing the open web makes sense since enterprises rarely move as quickly as the rest of the web, and the tradeoff between adding an external dependency is out-shined by the ability to move faster by building upon external expertise. The reality of APIs is that they exponentially increase the amount of potential resource you can allocate towards creating new value out of the raw material of innovation within your business. APIs are great in helping develop a digitally focused culture, maintaining good developer relations, and as a platform for good distributed and destination thinking. And publishers are not short on a need for digital talent, continuous innovation, and great digital ideas. 

So why so little experimentation? The Programmable Web post references a quote from Tim Carson (Manager Digital Platforms, USA TODAY) who said that they had to spend a lot of time briefing Executives before their API could be launched, hinting at the caution that may still govern the consideration of such initiatives at senior levels. Yet, even if we consider the open content API pioneered by The Guardian as anomalous in its expansiveness, there must surely be room for some test and learn with smaller segments of content or data, or individual brands within wider portfolios. So why so little experiementation?

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