Link v. read

I understand why the Associated Press and three other wire services negotiated to get money out of Google — money’s money and the wire-service model is challenging when links supersede syndication.

But I wonder whether this could backfire on the newspaper industry. Now — by forcing full wire-service stories to be on display at GoogleNews and with the addition of comments as content there — it’s likely that people will stay longer at Google and link less to news sites. This includes the wire services’ own clients, where readers used to have to go from GoogleNews to read wire stories. So even though it could sound like good news that Google is paying for content, this could reduce traffic to newspapers.

It’s not as if this isn’t a lesson learned: Yahoo licensed content and it is notoriously bad at sending traffic to news sites. It’s almost as if the industry just gave Google a license to hold onto readers.

I think this all displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of Google in the new news architecture and the way to take advantage of that. Rather than getting Google to pay for and display full content, wouldn’t it have been better for the industry — and, by extension, original journalism — to encourage it instead to find more ways to link to reporting at its source?

I keep saying that the industry is not assessing the real threat of Google: It’s advertising. Google is taking over the market for targeted — and next, local — advertising and we are letting them. That is the threat. And they are not assessing the real benefit of Google: links.

  • Jeff, The problem is not Google. It is the AP. What newspapers do not yet realize, and may never realize, is that they have established, funded, and shared stories with an organization that now competes with them. I’ll probably be posting on this Sunday night (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

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  • Jeff – I agree with your post.

    This deal can be a lifesaver and a wake up call for local newspapers.

    In my 35k circ daily, AP is becoming less important and valued. Most days at least three of the four front-page stories are local and many days we don’t think a wire story is worthy of the frontpage. You often hear an editor grumble how much we’re paying AP and how little they’re delivering. On our Web site we have some automatic AP feeds but they’re at the bottom and don’t get many clicks.

    I have a feeling some papers are questioning the value of AP since it’s so prevalent online and their stories are old news when the morning edition is printed. It’s only a matter of time before newspapers pull out of the AP.

    When that happens, AP will take a huge budget hit. (Keep in mind there are only a few newspaper corps. Imagine if Gannett orders local papers to cut AP). Many local news stories on AP are from members and rewritten by AP. Those stories will vanish. AP will only have enough manpower and funds to cover major stories such as politics, wars, etc. They won’t have as many local stories for Google to sell targeted ads to. Google’s AP news will compete with national news outlets.

    People seeking local news won’t find it on google or yahoo. They’ll get it from their local news outlet.

    Now my scenario assumes many things like newspaper execs being forward thinking enough (hasn’t been the case). But Google’s deal should spur some papers into becoming more local and focusing on what they do that is unique.

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  • Truth be told, the relationship between newspapers and wire services have been falling apart the last few years. A big reason for that is wire services are losing their relevance because they’re serving up content that be found all over the Web. In other words, the content has become a commodity because everyone’s got it.

    What newspapers need these days to stay viable is more local content as well as insightful and intelligent writing that you can’t easily get online.

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  • A big reason for that is wire services are losing their relevance because they’re serving up content that be found all over the Web.

    I think this is mistaking cause and effect. Most of that stuff is all over the web because it was initially reported by the wires and has been picked up by dozens of different newspaper sites, plus Yahoo News etc.

    Wire services are far from irrelevant online. Quite the contrary. Chris Paterson of Leeds University has shown (PDF), the agencies are the dominant sources of online news, particularly in international coverage. Most people just never noticed because their stories appear under other people’s brands. Google, however, quickly understood this feature of online news because of the problem they had with duplicated wire stories on Google News.

    This doesn’t suggest the “irrelvance” of wire services. It does suggest something that has been discussed for years — that news wholesalers are coming into competition with the retailers they traditionally supplied.

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  • “It’s almost as if the industry just gave Google a license to hold onto readers.”

    Absolutely. And not just to hold onto those readers, but to show them a better news experience. See more on that in my write up of Google’s move to host wire content.

    The real problem here is of channel conflict. The smartest move would be for AP, AFP, etc. to create their own branded sites and have Google point to their versions for them to monetize. This is what Reuters does, pointing traffic to

    AP decided a while back not to go that route because it didn’t want to annoy its newspaper partners/owners by building its own competing destination site. Instead, it hosts stories for partner newspapers in an awkward, not SEO friendly, template.

    And it sells the feeds to AOL, Yahoo and now Google for them to build the competing sites that the newspapers don’t want AP to build.

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  • It appears your blog ate my trackback or held it for moderation. Would welcome your reponse to the issues I’ve raised.

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  • bluntnib

    Surely this is good news for journalism and for those news organisations that invest in producing original content.
    By licensing wire agency copy Google is accepting the principle that text based unique content has a value and should be paid for. That is a monumental shift in their approach and has profound implications. News companies should be pressing for similar licencing arrangements with Google , or a revenue share based on contextual ads
    Newspapers and other news outlets that have the will and ability to generate exclusive stories will be rightly rewarded for their efforts.
    Those who rely on rehashed wire copy and are too lazy or dim to find scoops will go out of business.
    Everyone will have to raise their game

  • Beyond the loss in traffic from Google, the Google News story experience presents a marked contrast to that of other news sites. While many news sites throw many obstacles in the readers way — popups, registration requirements, rich media ads, etc. — Google News loads very fast and shows the story plus relevant related content.

    I created a screencast comparing Google News to, San Antonino Express News and the Houston Chronicle for the same AP story.

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