Google and newspapers

Yesterday, I ranted about newspapers’ failure to invent new ways to serve advertisers, ceding the business to Google. Today I read on Greenslade a discussion of classifieds, Google, and newspapers at the Society of Editors. There is the usual debate in such gatherings: Is Google a friend or foe? I say that’s the wrong question. They should be asking: What is Google doing that we should be doing? How can we be doing it? What will Google do next? Can we get there first? And what can Google do that we can’t and how do we take advantage of that? Google is a reality. Arguing about whether it is friend or foe will do no more good than sitting back and watching it do what you should be doing. Google is still trying to figure out its proper role in this ecosystem. Read the last paragraph from Stephen Brooks’ coverage on Greenslade to see that:

Classified advertising could vanish from newspaper print editions by the year 2020, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger suggested to the Society of Editors in Glasgow.

Participating in a panel about the media in 2020 that included Nathan Stoll, the product manager of Google News, Rusbridger was up front in saying that he had no definitive answers about the future, writes Stephen Brook. “The honest answer to the question is nobody knows,” Rusbridger told the audience in a lively panel session which included much discussion about how newspapers will survive Google hoovering up much advertising.

“I predict that classified advertising could disappear from newspapers by 2020,” Rusbridger said. Classified adverts from the Guardian print edition were declining by about 9% a year while internet advertising on Guardian Unlimited was growing by about 50% each year – but from a much lower base. The Guardian was attempting to monetise its recruitment revenues with the launch of Guardian Recruitment Services, a full recruitment organisation rather than just a classified advertising service.

“Nobody in newspapers can decide if Google is the friend or their enemy,” Rusbridger said. “The friendly bit is that they drive lots of traffic back to us and we might be able to monetise that. What’s happening at the moment is that Google is hovering up stupendous amounts of money on the back of our content.

Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, agreed. “The wider the message is spread the better but we need to be able to monetise that.” . . .

The youthful Google News chief said that the company was in the search and advertising business. “We are not content creators”. The next step for Google News is to do a better job in treating original content. “What we try and do is make sure than traffic goes to who properly produced a piece of work.” The Google News search algorithms will be refined to “expose original journalism”. The ultimate aim would be to build an “online ecosystem of publishers that is healthy”.

More coverage from the Press Gazette.

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  • What to do, what to do?

    The Google announcement should come as no surprise to anyone, in the business or not.

    Google’s auction operation will now take bids for newspaper ads for fifty major newspapers around the country – and it’s the big guys: Gannett, Hearst, and the
    Tribune companies to name a few.

    A three-month test? Now let’s slow the boat down for a minute. Let’s see what we have here. We have an industry with losses in every profit center, i.e. retail, advertising, national advertising, circulation, and let’s not forget the biggest loser – classified. Many of these losses can be directly tied to the machine we call Google.

    Here is the part I really like – “The new system will begin a test with 100 advertisers. Google will not earn any revenue during this test.”

    Okay, so we have 100 advertisers, theoretically and potentially new business for Google, and these advertisers are going to be handed to us – no cost, no obligation – for a period of three months. What happens after that?

    I read an article the other day that said newspapers need to quit worrying about making Wall Street happy and start concentrating their efforts on cultivating their customers. How true.

    That said, the Google newspaper test will provide much needed revenue for these papers, develop a revenue model for all to follow, and Google will make it easy for publishers to reap the revenue. My prediction? We wont read much more about this marriage. It will quietly continue; no big announcements or fanfare. Other players that were not a part of the pilot program will want their piece and Google will be happy to give it to them. And you guessed it – Wall Street will be happy again.

    The obvious question: is this good for the newspaper industry? This author thinks it depends on which newspaper industry we’re taking about. If we’re discussing the business that once was the breakfast staple of America, then no. If we’re talking about Wall Street, then yes.

    Now is not the time for blame, what-ifs, or whys. Now is the time to figure out who and what is important. If you are a publicly traded company, good luck. I don’t see an out for you guys. Your bankers want return, plain and simple. If you are a privately held company, then you have to move if you aren’t already.

    Just a couple of years ago I was a marketing director for a large group of weeklies. We had a mantra, so to speak. It was “Back to Basics” and although we couldn’t ever truly embrace this concept, the newspaper owners and managers of today, must!

    Start with your customers – simply put, the reader and the advertiser. What do they want and how are you going to get it to them? Work on identifying the needs, remove roadblocks, forget the old business model, and move forward. It’s not going to be easy, but as a newspaper industry veteran and even longer newspaper reader, I believe it will be worth it. I look forward to the day when newspapers can say the report of my death has been greatly exaggerated.

    Todd Williams spent thirty years in the newspaper business. He is now the owner of, an award winning newspaper website development firm and administrator of He can be reached at

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