Is Google Killing the News?

I am a massive Google fan. I think they have done more to open up the web and unlock the information on it than any other company. It’s all very well having browsers and content but finding what you need in the morass is what has made the web exciting, to my mind.

But all this comes at a price – despite the recession, Google clocked up $5.7bn in revenue last quarter and while profits dropped to $382m, they have made as much as $1.29bn of profit in Q3 of 2008. It is, by any measure, an extraordinarily profitable business.

One of its main functions is to aggregate content so that we can all easily digest information, like that from newspapers. While having amazing deals with newspaper firms which nets it enormous advertising revenues, papers are finding it hard. In a recent conference organised by the newspaper industry, Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, was both critical of papers and criticised by them.

On the one hand, news companies saw the incredible revenues Google was making effectively off the back of their content, for which they have to pay handsomely to produce. On the other, Google believes that newspapers should revolutionise and get with the fact that they are useless at distributing their content. Schmidt criticised the newspaper industry for ‘pissing off’ its consumers and that Google were the heroes for distributing the content more effectively. More details please

The Big Machine

Producing news is an expensive business, much more expensive than aggregating and distributing it. If someone delivered a paper to your doorstep which was just the information you liked as a synopsis of cuttings that would interest you from all papers in just one copy, small enough to digest the headlines but expandable if you want to read the detailed article, then that’s what Google does. With it comes all that context sensitive advertising, carefully targeted to get us to click through and earn fortunes for Google.

It is, undoubtedly, a terrific service.

But it is just that. The content is what drives the interest and it’s easy to forget that. I write this blog but the wider world beyond a clique of readers never get to see it as Google does not rate it and I do not pay them for anything. The result is that even if I have some practical advice for SMEs, beyond a few dedicated readers, the wider world never knows about it. If I wanted to expand my readership, I would have to pay Google to take interest. That does not stop them hosting the blog or popping adverts on the side. My content still earns them some money.

Google was described by one source from within the newspaper industry as a ‘tapeworm’, parasitically dependent on the content produced at great expense by the news industry. The consumers, though, want it all ways. I read the Telegraph from time to time because I like to do the crossword but if I want to find out about something quickly I ‘Google’ the subject and choose a prominent news story – it may not be the best written, the best informed or indeed written by a factual journalist in this country even, but it will be from the company with the highest Google rating which is ultimately driven by money.

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