Monday, April 20, 2009

Don’t blame Google for newspaper woes

NEWSPAPER people are wasting time and wasting their breath in blaming Google for the failure of their products to thrive in the digital universe.
They need to look to themselves – not Google, Yahoo or some other third-party savior – to begin strengthening their franchises and building up their businesses on the Internet.
The airwaves have been clogged in the last couple of weeks with newspaper people alternatively blaming Google for the industry’s problems or begging Google to come to their aid.
Google isn’t responsible for saving the newspaper industry or journalism. Publishers and editors are.
As a rationally managed corporation, Google will do only the things that advance its best interests. The company isn’t going to start paying for newspaper content or sharing its revenues with publishers unless it is required to do so to grow its business, defend its franchise or comply with some as-yet-unenacted law.
For the record, newspapers actually had a head start over Google. But Google “got” the web. And newspapers didn’t. That’s not Google’s fault.
Before you blame Google, consider:
* Several newspapers launched their first websites by the time Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University in 1995 and started noodling on a research project called BackRub.
* Two or three years before the first public peek of the still-nascent Google in 1998, the ill-fated and short-lived New Century Network had a plan to aggregate the content from 140 newspapers in searchable format for the web. The plan, which included the idea of inserting ads in selected markets at the push of a button, died when NCN succumbed to industry infighting.
* It was not until October, 2000 – a good five years after most newspapers were up and running on the web – that Google figured out how to make money off its spectacularly growing traffic by selling keyword advertising.
As Google and many other savvy online publishers learned how to capitalize on the openness and interactivity of the Internet, newspaper publishers stubbornly spent the last 1½ decades trying to sustain their once-enviable print business model in the face of overwhelming evidence that everything was changing: technology, consumer patterns and advertiser behavior.
For an excellent example of the sort of opportunities missed by the industry, look no further than this tale of how the Boston Globe blew the chance in 1995 to buy a significant share of Monster.Com for a comparatively modest $1 million.
Or, ask yourself why Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, never started its own online stock site. Instead, Dow Jones waited until 2004 and spent $520 million to buy MarketWatch, faithfully printing stock listings in the newspaper all the while.
Today, print advertising has fallen off a cliff because consumers find it faster, easier, more timely and more fun to get their news online. Advertisers increasingly are gravitating to online media instead of print, because it is cheaper, highly targetable and the results can be readily measured and analyzed.
None of this is Google’s fault. Blaming Google won’t help.


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