Why Are Publications Trying To Bite The Google Hand That Feeds Them?

from the questions-worth-asking... dept

Someone anonymously submitted a decent writeup by John A. Byrne, the former editor-in-chief at Business Week who recently left (amid the shakeup due to Bloomberg buying the magazine) to start a new media effort called C-Change Media. In this blog post, Byrne argues that the media complaining about Google sending them traffic is biting the hand that feeds them. There's really not much new in the writeup, which runs over the same ground we've covered for a few years now, but it's a nice succinct summary of the situation:
Rupert Murdoch's protestations aside, there is no doubt that Google is driving vast amounts of traffic to websites run by traditional media companies. In recent years, most of BusinessWeek.com's growth came from search optimization and direct traffic. Up until only three years ago, the number one referring domain at BusinessWeek was always a portal until Google's popularity replaced Yahoo Finance and MSN Money as the top referrer. Search--largely Google--now accounts for some 45% of the traffic at BW.com, up from less than 20% in 2006. That simple little box is driving vast amounts of advertising inventory (and therefore revenue) to the site. It's a similar story everywhere else.

In the war between the traditional media brands and Google, the old cliche about biting the hand that feeds you is certainly in play. Some of the complaints from media can be attributed to sour grapes. Many incumbents resent that most efforts to find information on the Web no longer starts with a brand. It starts with Google which is largely brand agnostic. So, in effect, Google has become this massive transaction machine, and as everyone knows, transactions are the antithesis of relationships. If a brand wants a relationship with its audience, Google is getting in the way. It's how Google was able to siphon nearly $22 billion last year in advertising from traditional media. And it's the most obvious proof that media brands have diminished in value. People are more routinely turning to Google to get information, rather than a brand known for its expertise in a given area. They'll google (yes, I'm using Google as a verb) leadership before going to The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, or Harvard Business Review. They'll google President Clinton before going to The New York Times, Time, or Newsweek. Why? Because they trust Google to serve up unbiased results; because they want to see what is generally available out there and not tied to a brand, and because most brands no longer wield the power and influence they did years ago.

Instead of complaining about this and threatening to block Google from crawling a site, media companies would do well to step back and more fully understand what they really need to do: rebuild the relationships they have with their readers, viewers, users. To offset the massive transaction machine that Google is, media brands need to focus on restoring relationships with users. That's why "user engagement" is not an idle phrase to throw around but is essential to making a brand successful online. Original content isn't enough. Gee-whiz tech tricks aren't enough. Neither is a fancy design or a search trap gimmick. You need an audience that is deeply and meaningfully engaged in the content of a site, so engaged in fact that many of those users become collaborators, and that requires tremendous amounts of work and editorial involvement with the audience.
Indeed. It's the point we've been trying to make for ages. Newspapers were always in the community building business. They would bring together a community of folks and then sell their attention to advertisers. That was the business. But they thought they were in the news delivery business, and that's confusing them -- leading them to do things that are anti-community and anti-relationship (registration walls, paywalls, etc.) that actually harm the value of the community and limit that. Thus, people are going elsewhere for community -- whether it's other media publications or social network sites -- and newspapers are lashing out at the wrong party: the one who sends them traffic.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Lobo Santo's Ugly New Pet, Dec 24th, 2009 @ 6:32pm

    For the most part, newspapers and other publications aren't attempting to reach a worldwide general audience. Local newspapers are for local people, contain local advertising, and apply to the local people. A huge influx of Google traffic from all over the world into a local newspaper site isn't exactly a profitable business for them.

    What this gentleman misses is that, absent Google, the people would still go to the WSJ, Newsweek, Time, CNN, Fox, looking for the news. Those properties are destination properties already, without the influence of Google. They are the type news sources people go to, no matter what else is going on.

    I didn't need Google to find cnn.com or foxnews.com before, and I still don't need Google to help me find them now.

    It is like anything. Google traffic can benefit some sites, it can be a wasteful horde of unwanted guest for others, and it can be at best a bit player for others. There is no single one answer that is right.

     

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  2.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 24th, 2009 @ 6:49pm

    Re:

    The difference is that, absent google, most people would frequent one or two of those sources. With Google, most people will get their news from any and all sources that they find. The most important message in the quoted passage above is that about 'user engagement' - and for an example you need look no further than the end of your nose. TechDirt keeps us coming back, even people who just love to argue and insult Mike, because it engages us in an active and interesting community. Most traditional news websites are chock full of social widgets and fancy comments, yet they completely fail to achieve the same level of engagement.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2009 @ 7:20pm

    Re:

    Then, of course, those websites are free to block Google, stop whining, and STFU.

    Of course, they don't.

     

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  4.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Dec 24th, 2009 @ 7:27pm

    Re:

    So cnn, fox news WSJ etc are not trying to reach the world? Are you missing the fact that newspapers can pull together a community from a world wide base and not just a geographical area?

     

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  5.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 24th, 2009 @ 7:30pm

    Re: Re:

    "Then, of course, those websites are free to block Google, stop whining, and STFU."

    Of course. But what would be wonderful is if they got the traffic AND got paid for the privilege.

     

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  6.  
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    The Anti-Mike, Dec 24th, 2009 @ 9:19pm

    Re: Re:

    Those publications are already reaching the world. They don't need the help, and to be fair, they rarely get the help, as Google's news search tends to lean towards other sites rather than the biggies.

     

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  7.  
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    zcat (profile), Dec 24th, 2009 @ 11:37pm

    Google have the power to end this nonsense overnight....

    It's not like there's any shortage of online news sources who DO want to be indexed. All Google need to do is just stop listing/indexing/giving traffic to any news site that complains.. or if they want to get really nasty, any news site that even publishes stories about any other news site complaining. It's not like it's censorship, just make the policy "complaint about indexing" == "robots.txt" and let them decide if they really still want to complain.

     

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  8.  
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    Vincent Clement, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 4:55am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm looking at the World section on Google News Canada, and I see the Washington Post, New York Time, BBC News, Fox News, and CNN International all cited. I switch to the US Feed and I see the above resources plus the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

    They all seem big to me.

     

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  9.  
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    ScaredOfTheMan, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 6:53am

    Disgree with the first guy

    I can tell you right now, no one under the age of 30, starts a web browser and goes to www.wsJ.com and browses the stories. We go to aggregators and search engines customized to our liking and interests. Or we do a search on something that interests us.

    You keep suggesting that these folks would do fine without google, I suggest the fact that they have not enacted paywalls (the majority of them) and not changed their robot.txt to exclude means they disagree with you.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh, yes, of course there is absolutely no competition for visitors between the major news sites.

     

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  11.  
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    The Anti-Mike, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 7:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Please notice the word "tends".

    Carry on.

     

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  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 25th, 2009 @ 10:03am

    Re: Disgree with the first guy

    "I can tell you right now, no one under the age of 30, starts a web browser and goes to www.wsJ.com and browses the stories."

    The same is true amongst my set of friends, who are in the 40-55 age range.

    That would remain true if Google didn't exist. We'd all just find another aggregator. The big names are not trusted and are largely ignored -- and that's certainly not Google's fault. Corporate news has simply proven that they aren't worth any time or attention. Without quality product, there's no reason to go there.

     

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  13.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 25th, 2009 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    If you're going to blab about averages, you better have some numbers. Otherwise, Vincent's cursory glance officially does give him a larger data sample than you, and your assertion is meaningless.

     

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  14.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 25th, 2009 @ 12:29pm

    techdirt ....

    "You need an audience that is deeply and meaningfully engaged in the content of a site, so engaged in fact that many of those users become collaborators, and that requires tremendous amounts of work and editorial involvement with the audience. "

    Techdirt ... nuff said

     

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  15.  
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    You are wrong, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You are wrong.

     

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  16.  
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    transmaster (profile), Dec 25th, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    I have been using Google since it's first week on line. It's news feed is one my favorite features. I can set an alert and follow numerous sources of a particular issue. The Global warming scam is just one example. When you see what is not being reported by our main stream media on just this issue you can see way the MSM has lost it's credibility. It isn't so much bitching about biting the hand that feeds them as people using Google to learn just how bad political hacks the MSM has become.

     

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  17.  
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    The Anti-Mike, Dec 25th, 2009 @ 10:40pm

    Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    It's the miracle of the internet. 30 years ago, the tin foil hatters stood on street corners trying to give away mimeographed tracts that read like a Charles Manson meets Al Bundy sort of deal, very confused. The internet let's these people not only go online, but to meet other people who have similar fantasies about the world.

    Heck, Mike appears to be making an entire living out of pushing in part a combination of narrowly selected "factoids", one sided views, and wishful thinking.

    The non-MSM sources are often run by people who have a message, a point of view, and are working very hard to shape the facts to meet their pre-determined ideals.

    When you find one that you like, you think they know more than the MSM. It isn't that they are right, it's just that they agree with your pre-determined ideals.

    Enjoy it. Age doesn't matter.

     

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  18.  
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    TDR, Dec 26th, 2009 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    You've just given yourself away, AM. Your ties to the MSM are completely transparent now thanks to your comments here. So, care to tell us just how deep those ties go? And from whence they come? If they don't exist, then give evidence to prove it. Any other answer simply proves the opposite.

     

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  19.  
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    Lobo Santo's Ugly New Pet, Dec 26th, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    Re:

    HAHAHA DISREGARD THAT I SUCK COCKS

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2009 @ 7:26pm

    Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    You lost all credibility the minute you called Global Warming a scam. Ignorant.

     

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  21.  
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    Rick (profile), Dec 26th, 2009 @ 9:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    Your particularly rabid response to Anti-Mike regarding his alleged ties to the main stream media is intriguing to me. I have never been able to understand just how warped the MSM really is, yet I hear accusations all the time. You obviously have a considerable body of evidence proving just how awful they really are.

    Could you help me out with some sources of your own?

     

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  22.  
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    Not delusional - like TAM is, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    "tin foil hatters stood on street corners trying to give away mimeographed tracts that read like a Charles Manson meets Al Bundy sort of deal, very confused. The internet let's these people not only go online, but to meet other people who have similar fantasies about the world."

    - Sounds like you are talking about fox news

    "The non-MSM sources are often run by people who have a message, a point of view, and are working very hard to shape the facts to meet their pre-determined ideals."

    - Sorry to disappoint you, but MSM does this as well if not better and more often than the non-MSM to which you refer. MSM has a tendency to cooperate amongst themselves and publish the same story - no matter how biased it is. And MSM does not appreciate the little people publishing facts about stories which MSM has tried to coverup, warp, slant, whatever term you prefer.

    "When you find one that you like, you think they know more than the MSM. It isn't that they are right, it's just that they agree with your pre-determined ideals."

    - You must be talking about the teabaggers. Most people do not fall into stereotype you have described. Believe it or not, there are those out there that actually read, watch, listen to many sides of a story, issue, etc and come up with their own opinion.

     

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  23.  
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    The Anti-Mike, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    Please do explain, and tell me who I am suppose to contact about the paychecks I have never gotten. If I am working for them at least they can pay me.

    Your answer is just a smear, which suggests that you know I am right, you cannot argue the point, so instead you attact the poster and attempt to stick a label on them.

    So, would you like to debate the points, or would you like to try explain my apparent "ties to the MSM"?

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    TDR, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    Again, a diversionary tactic. You refuse to provide evidence, thus you admit the ties are there. As I said above. Give proof, or you only implicate yourself - which you already do here with your poor reasoning and circular logical, always easily countered here.

    And btw, I recall - and this was stated in a story here on Techdirt - when one of Fox News' reporters was let go for not doing a story the way his bosses wanted, he revealed that the head of Fox said, basically "the truth is what I say it is." How much more corrupt can you get? And if you could find that story, Mike, I'd appreciate it, because I know I read it here a while back.

    Also, consider this, TAM: when was the last time you saw an MSM report that reflected badly on upper level members of the MSM? When was the last time you saw them expose corruption in politicians, except those they want to smear? When was the last time you saw them ask questions not already staged and prewritten? When was the last time you saw them even acknowledge politicians not affiliated with the two big parties? You can't trust news put out by a corporate entity because profit will always win out over truth in that environment.

     

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  25.  
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    Scott M. Stolz, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 4:20pm

    Quality of Their Brand

    I did a little research on what websites News Corp. owns, and I found something interesting. Out of over 2 dozen high profile sites News Corp. owns, I have only been to 2 or 3 of them, and all of those were social media sites such as MySpace and a picture sharing site. For the most part, I go elsewhere for news, his competitors. I have heard of most of them, but they were never a destination I was compelled to visit. At least for me, his brands are not pulling me, his competitor's brands are.

    I think that John A. Byrne has it right on the money. What is missing is community. And that is what is going to keep people loyal to their brand. As for content and news, there are too many competitors that do the same thing, half of them reprinting the same AP or Reuters stories as everybody else.

    If they block Google and other search engines, it will be their own funeral. What they need to do is convert those Google visitors into loyal members of a community. That is what will set them apart and will be what makes their site stickier than it is now.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 5:46pm

    The view of Google as "getting in the way" of building relationships seems odd to me. Google might be better thought of as the guy that introduces you to each other at a party, after which, if you hit it off, you can have a relationship and Google will not intrude. Google does nothing to prevent visitors to your site bookmarking it and coming back later (and did the article not indicate that about half the Business Week's site's traffic was direct, and half was search engine referral? So people have been) -- IF your site can entice people to want to revisit it.

    And then it's like in many other businesses: try to send people away satisfied, to increase the amount of repeat business you get.

     

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  27.  
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    The Anti-Mike, Dec 27th, 2009 @ 11:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I am in the 55 Plus crowd

    You refuse to provide evidence, thus you admit the ties are there. As I said above. Give proof, or you only implicate yourself - which you already do here with your poor reasoning and circular logical, always easily countered here.

    You wish me to what, prove the absence of something? You wish me to explain the square root of -1 to a caveman too? Why not give me easier jobs, like getting Obama's autograph while his is in his limo at speed... sheesh!

    I personally dislike Fox News, I know that they aren't covering both sides of the story. But what they are doing is only being exactly like many of the online sources (visits Drudge lately?). You can find conservative lean, liberal lean, and a whole bunch of stupid lean out there.

    But outside of a very few cases, the MSM in general reports the stories straight up, offering up what they know, and then adding opinion to try to put things together in context.

    Websites? Blogs? Online "newsy" sites? Most of them work it backwards, starting with an opinion and offering up only the facts that support their opinion. This is also what Fox News often does, which is why they are poorly regarded by most people with brains.

    Even Techdirt here starts out backwards. Mike has an agenda, his personal belief list, and he will only run stories (and expose you to facts in those stories) that support his agenda. He will purposely ignore facts that don't line up, or will dismiss them as unimportant. He has done this on things like the UK music industry reports (he is all about "live is way up" but overall consumer spending on music is flat as the plains for almost 10 years). He dismisses the trend in Sweden to increased music sales since the IPRED came into play, calling it a "dead cat bounce". He won't even open a new topic to discuss it, he just dismisses it.

    Slant. MSM has it in general terms, but the web has it in very specific ways, very narrow of focus. It's basic tin hatter mentality, given credibility by appearing in Google's search results.

     

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  28.  
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    Ben, Dec 28th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    It's About the Money

    The best analogy for understanding what's going on here is the way that cable companies have to pay to rebroadcast over-the-air channels.

    When cable was brand-new, cable companies would simply collect the local over-the-air channels and rebroadcast them over their cables without paying a dime. They were bringing more customers to these channels, just like Google brings new customers to these media companies. But they sued anyway, and if they didn't win the lawsuits they got the laws changed (I think it was mostly a state-level thing, not sure). The result is that cable companies pay local channels to rebroadcast them.

    Similarly, these media companies are not unhappy about the additional clicks, they just want to change the balance of power and payment.

     

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