Posts about big

We hate success

The Justice Department has hired a litigator to look at going after Google and its growing dominance in advertising.

This isn’t surprising, of course. It’s the yin-yang of American business: we love success stories but we hate too much success.

The problem with going after Google is that unlike Microsoft or earlier monopolies, the industries Google affects handed it its dominance on a silver platter. Google didn’t steal it away. Yahoo went to Google to be rescued from erstwhile monopolist Microsoft and to improve its bottom line by hundreds of millions of dollars. Newspapers–non-French-speaking ones at least–hire specialists to make their content more attractive to Google and happily take its ads–including this week’s announcement about Google digitizing and monetizing newspaper archives. See also this week’s announcement by NBC that it is handing over some ad inventory to Google. That’s not just about the money. It’s about bringing in a new population of advertisers that big media couldn’t serve (being too big–irony noted).

The agency side of the business, too, is eager to do business with Google. When I interviewed Rishad Tobaccowalla of Publcis’ Denou for my book, he explained that the giant agency consolidated all its digital divisions so it would have better negotiating leverage with Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, et al — and also so it would gather more data (as Google does) to learn more about users and target ads better.

But Google gobbles up advertising companies, you say. Well, its acquisition of Doubleclick was approved by the government only recently. Has Google gotten too big since then?

I’ve long argued that we do, indeed, need competition in the ad market but it’s not going to come from regulation. It’s going to come from getting off our asses and creating those competitors. I said that we need an open-source ad marketplace. Nobody’s heeded that advice. Meanwhile, Glam has built a non-Google network that has grown to gigantic proportion–CEO Samir Arora told me at a Burda party the other night that it now serves more than 80 million uniques worldwide, more than 40 million in the U.S. with brand advertisers. That is a competitor to Google.

(Full disclosure: I’m writing a book about Google, What Would Google Do? And I own Google stock.)

A picture is worth five words

Hugh MacLeod interviews Seth Godin on books and blogs. It’s well worth the click for the cartoon alone.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad media?

It’s ironic that The Nation should come out with its perennial screed against big-media, cross-media conglomeration (complete with obscene centerfold) at the same time that Tribune Company — the grandfathered forefather of local cross-media newspaper-TV-radio-cable-magazine-online-entertainment hegemony — is threatened with breakup, like Knight Ridder before it, because a warring stockholder says that synergy just isn’t working.

Folks, in the age of small, it’s bad to be big.

Hell, even Markos isn’t worried about big media.

The media landscape is changing dramatically, seemingly on a daily basis, and what we once considered serious dangers to our democracy–things like media consolidation and the absence of balance and fairness–will become increasingly less important. We are at the beginning of the age of citizen media, where corporations can own vast, billion-dollar media outlets yet fail to control the flow and content of information. It’s quite hard to be a media gatekeeper when everyone becomes media, and that’s what we’re seeing happen in the age of blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasting, vlogging, message boards, e-mail groups and whatever wonderful communication technologies emerge tomorrow. Consolidation isn’t saving newspaper circulation numbers.

It’s actually kind of sad to see writers at The Nation still trying to get up a good fret over media monstrosity. [via InOpinion]

: LATER: Matthew Yglesias does the better analysis (of course):

Media concentration is, I’m afraid, one of those progressive causes I’ve never been able to get unduly worked up about. Whenever this comes up, I think back to years and years ago when I was living at home and my parents subscribed to The Nation. They printed this big chart showing how concentrated the media was in the hands of a few corporations. Or, at least, that’s what it was supposed to show. I recall having thought that the chart actually showed Big Media to be relatively diffuse, all things considered. . . .

As they’re saying-but-not-saying here [in the current Nation chart], the media’s become less concentrated. They’re up to six giants from just four — General Electric, Disney, Time Warner, CBS (which I believe is the successor to Westinghouse), plus new entrants Fox, and Viacom. So that’s six.

Six is a reasonably small number, but compared to what? What do the top six American car companies control? Oh, right, there are only two. And only two operating system makers. And so on and so forth. The tendency in any field would be for the top six firms to control a large portion of the aggregate.

What’s more, the curious thing about these six media monopolists is that between them they control zero of America’s most-influential newspapers. . . .

On top of all that, you need to consider the existence of NPR and PBS. . . .

On top of all this, the Internet is greatly enhancing peoples’ range of options. Actual “new media” — blogs, etc. — play a relatively small role in this. The main thing is that, unlike it past eras, it’s now really, really easy for somebody living in St. Louis to read The Los Angeles Times or The Boston Globe or, for that matter, The Guardian or The Independent if they’re interested in a different perspective on world or national affairs. In the more strictly entertainment sectors of the media, thanks to the iTunes Music Store and EMusic and Netflix and digital cable, it’s never been easier — especially for people living outside major cultural centers — to find an independent album or movie.

This is getting very longwinded. But suffice it to say that while I have major — major — complaints with the reality of most media content, I don’t find it especially plausible to attribute these problems to overconcentration. The media business doesn’t seem especially concentrated and it’s becoming less rather than more concentrated.

[Hat tip: Robert Feinman in the comments]

Bassackwards business

I constantly hear newspaper executives fret, “How am I going to get enough money to support my newsroom.” I did an interview about TV the other day and one of the questions was, “How are networks and producers going to get enough money to make the shows the make?”

In what business can you start your calculations with the bottom line you want to have: ‘I need to make this much money’? Doesn’t every sane business (that is new and hopeful or healthy and growing) start, instead, by saying, ‘This is my product, this is what customers are willing to pay in the marketplace, this is what it is worth, so that’s what I’ll make’?

That is the problem with threatened media businesses: They continue to concentrate on preserving their pasts, on the revenue they used to make as monopolies and megaliths in the age of big, and not on the products they create and the value they bring their customers in a new and competitive marketplace.

I wouldn’t bet stock on guys who look at their businesses from the wrong end.

Exploding telecom

The UK’s Carphone Warehouse plans to offer free broadband. [via Simon Waldman] See also today’s Times story about San Francisco’s free/paid wi-fi. There’s some hooha in there with a kneejerk story about privacy concerns:

But even before the city announced the winning bidder, privacy advocates had begun to criticize the Google approach for what they say is its potential to violate consumer privacy. Early last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Council released a joint report calling the EarthLink and Google proposal “privacy-invasive,” because it would involve “cookies” that track users from session to session to enable customized delivery of ads.

Like every single ad-supported site out there. Get over it. Cookies don’t have cooties. Without cookies, ads will disappear and you won’t get free wi-fi and free content.