There are no free searches

There are no free searches

: There is no free lunch. There are no free searches. At least not for media, there aren’t.

Media depend on Google. Without the search engine, no one would be found. Without GoogleNews, they’d all get less traffic. Without the ad programs, advertisers wouldn’t be advertising on plain old home pages; bloggers owe gratitude to Google for taking the cooties off citizens’ media. With the ad programs, big media sites and bloggers alike are getting checks from Google. All that is wonderful.

So is heroin. At first.

Now cautionary notes are being heard here and there:

: Ad Age reports this week (not online, damnit) that Google is beating the big boys:

:Yahoo and Google’s total ad revenues this year could rival the combined prime-time ad revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC — a stunning achievement for the companies and a watershed moment [read: tipping point -ed] for the Internet as an advertising medium.

In terms of revenue, Google’s estimated $3 billion and Yahoo’s $2.9 billion compare with $6.2 billion for the big nets’ prime time. And their market cap is up with the big boys: Google is No. 2 behind Time Warner; Yahoo is No. five behind Disney and News Corp. as well.

“The results from Google and Yahoo combined with softeness in traditional media, offer the strongest evidence yet of the dramatic changes occurring in the media and marketing landscape,” Tony Mastin, analyst at William Blair & Co. wrote.

In terms of measured media spending, the Internet was already bigger than outdoor, TV syndication and national newspapers, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

: Now turn to Simon Waldman, biz brains behind Guardian Online, who adds up Googles plans to serve banners and allow advertisers to pick sites (which means that Google can undersell media sales teams) and sell on CPM (rather than just clicks) and add ads to RSS and ad adds to maps and local… who knows what’s next.

You can look at the details of all this activity – the mind-boggling reach of the decentralised network, the efficiency of the (mostly) sales-team-free booking system, the instant creation of a major banner network (just as the market for search starts to plateau, of course) – all of which are exciting./petrifying depending on where you sit.

But the really striking thing here is the pace of it all. Blistering. Fuelled of course by an arms race with Yahoo! that seems to be bringing out the best in both players.

The point is – and letís be honest here – there is no way that traditional media organisations can compete at this pace. Or even at half this pace. This isnít an act of self-flagellation, itís just a matter of fact – for better or for worse….

But if we look around and want to retain our share of readersí attention and advertisersí wallets, itís going to take probably double the effort,imagination and, frankly luck that even the best of us have had over the last five years.

: Now here is Rich Gordan at Poynter looking at the same announcements and worrying:

From Google’s perspective, this is a natural evolution of AdSense — giving its advertisers more flexibility and better results, and allowing the company to sell brand advertising along with the direct-response variety. But if I put my online publisher hat on, I’m not sure I like what I’m hearing.

Most every Web publisher these days has signed on to AdSense because it offers real additional revenue with virtually no effort. But these new initiatives would turn Google into a full-fledged interactive media buying agency — and enable advertisers to go through Google to place pretty much the same kinds of ads that they now would have to buy directly from a site or from ad networks such as Doubleclick or 24/7 Real Media.

My guess is that many site managers will not want these new kinds of Google ads running on their sites — but the lure of “easy” revenue (or the fear of losing AdSense money) might cause them to come aboard….

I also think that Google will sell those ads for less than what publishers are selling equivalent ads for — just as the ad networks already do. Maybe this will be a good thing — enabling sites to grow ad revenue without having to add salespeople.

But the Trojan horse story does come to mind. Publishers have let AdSense inside the gates. What will Google do now?

: Follow the links in the posts above to many news stories on Google’s announcements. Then imagine where Google can go next, challenging not just media but media’s challengers: Watch out Monster… eBay… CraigsList….

Now ask whether Google is friend or foe… or both.

The answer, inevitably, must be both: Google helped explode the internet. Without its search, no one would find our content. Without the ads, Google wouldn’t make money. But then, that’s Google’s problem, isn’t it? And a not-very-big-problem it is.

It’s not a love/hate thing. I love Google; we all should. I don’t hate Google. But I think it’s time to consider fearing Google. Just to be safe.

So what should media sites be doing? And I don’t just mean the big guys. I mean you, humble blogger with your humble ads:

Will Google maximize your value? Will Google undersell you? Is Google being transparent with you and revealing what the ads on your pages are selling for and what share you’re getting? Will Google compete with you? Can Google put the stranglehold of a monopoly on you? Should you be making Google bigger or helping to create competitors to Google? Can you afford to? Can you afford not to?

Just asking.