Don't Blame Google And Scribd For Your Own Business Model Problems

from the try-this-on-for-size dept

Another weekend goes by and another old school newspaper guy writes a long screed condemning Google as a menace hellbent on destroying all that is good and right in the news business. This one, by Henry Porter in The Guardian is particularly amusing due to the logical inconsistencies within. It starts out, first, with a rehashing of the misguided attack on Scribd, where Porter seems to blame Scribd for actions of its users (who knew it was so difficult to separate out the drivers from the automakers). To him, Scribd is pure evil:

it still allows individuals to advertise services for delivering pirated books by email, which must make it the enemy of every writer and publisher in the world. In effect it has turned copyright law on its head: instead of asking publishers for permission, it requires them to object if and when they become aware of a breach.

Yes, that’s why many authors and publishers are using Scribd to help promote their books. Apparently the fact that Scribd might be useful never occurred to Porter. It’s the same complaint by plenty of folks who refuse to even think about new business model possibilities, to immediately condemn any useful new service as killing off any hope of a business model even as those willing to embrace the technology are finding it enhances rather than diminishes their opportunities.

Then, right after he complains that Scribd isn’t doing enough to prevent books from getting online, he complains about Google for the exact opposite thing:

Google presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community…. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

This is the very next paragraph. So, let me get the logic straight: Scribd is a problem because it allows books to be posted online without permission and doesn’t do enough to take them down. Google, on the other hand, is a problem because it has taken down music videos rather than leaving them up and simply paying.

So, apparently, the lesson of the day is that content creators should be able to demand a specific amount of money from any service provider for actions done by their users (not the service provider itself), and if that service provider can’t pay up, too bad. Oh, and then, of course, there’s the popular claim of the content creator that Google adds no value:

Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.

Fair enough. If it adds no real value, then remove your works from Google, Mr. Porter. But, the truth is Mr. Porter is wrong and he knows it deep down inside. If Google “created nothing” and offered no value, no one would use it. But the fact is that it creates tremendous value, hence all of the usage, including some that drives traffic to Mr. Porter’s weakly argued, poorly reasoned rant. The fact that Mr. Porter or his bosses are somehow unable to capitalize on that traffic is their fault alone, not Google’s.

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Companies: google, scribd

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Comments on “Don't Blame Google And Scribd For Your Own Business Model Problems”

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elduderino (profile) says:


boy content providers are sure quick with those takedown notices until google puts the smackdown on all their content… though I have to ask… I’ve seen the hyperlinks to the “complaints” the content providers are making and I don’t see any DIRECT complaint about the takedown, just wild accusations about “abuse of power”.. granted, a complaint about their content being taken down, but a weak one.. “google took its ball and went home it should be punished” is slightly different from “we demand our content be made available so we can be compensated”… I can see where you might infer that, I do too. but the fact of the matter is it isn’t explicitly said.

oh, and what google has done with all of this? brilliant! if they REALLY ARE saying “google is taking its ball and going home” then what they ARE REALLY saying is “google has all the power” which makes me happy on the inside.

sure google is scary with all its power, but it seems to be (despite recent evidence) still on the side of the consumer and against the TRUE parasites: the content PROVIDERS who LEECH of the content PRODUCERS.

granted this story is about news but hey, it reckon it still took one parasite to know another.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Does Google make more money out of TechCrunch than Mike Arrington does?

Google still adds more value to Techdirt. Let’s say that 50% of Techdirt users find it through google.

If google looses Techdirt, another tech site comes up in the searches. If Techdirt loses google, 50% of their visitors disappear, and their revenue is cut in half. And google won’t lose a dime.

Techdirt can only afford to cut off google when a very small percentage of traffic comes from there. And if that were true, google wouldn’t make that much money in the first place.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Does Google make more money out of TechCrunch than Mike Arrington does?

Huh? Google isn’t “making money out of TechCrunch.” They make money out of providing a service.

That’s the part that confuses me. People seem to assume that the value is the content. It’s not. Google’s value is helping people find content. That’s a service.

So, no Google isn’t making “money out of TechCrunch” (or Techdirt, for that matter). It’s making money helping people find those sites… and that benefits everyone.

To call it “a tax” is ridiculous. No money is “lost” by TechCrunch.

You write some interesting stuff, Alan, but this one is way out there.

Carl says:

Dictinction please

“The fact that Mr. Porter or his bosses are somehow unable to capitalize on that traffic is their fault alone, not Google’s.”

To be fair to The Guardian, it is an award-winning site and consistently delivers all of its news for free, and with interactivity and open-ness that many other papers baulk at.

Comment by columnists is always designed to provoke a reaction – the paper is in no way pretending this is objective journalism – it is the opinion (the column) of just one man

Ian Betteridge (user link) says:

Re: Dictinction please

What I find really hilarious is the comments from people like Arrington, who will post any old rubbish (Google buying Twitter, anyone?) in order to get page views.

And yet, when someone posts something pithy, controversial – and thus attractive for page views – they get their knickers in a twist.

Could it be because this week Henry Porter is getting more page views that Mike Arrington? ๐Ÿ™‚

Ian Betteridge (user link) says:

Your point is interesting, but wrong.

Framing Google as “a service provider” as if it were an ISP is disengenuous, particularly when it comes to the YouTube/music video issue that Porter raises. While I don’t agree with Porter’s overall argument, you’re simply wrong on that point.

Google already pays a per-play fee to the PRS, which is distributed directly to musicians. It’s not arguing, as you make out, that it shouldn’t have to pay anything because “it’s the users wot dun it”.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Your point is interesting, but wrong.

Framing Google as “a service provider” as if it were an ISP is disengenuous, particularly when it comes to the YouTube/music video issue that Porter raises.

Not at all. Under the DMCA definitions, Google is most certainly a service provider.

Google already pays a per-play fee to the PRS, which is distributed directly to musicians

Yes, through no legal force. That was the point I raised when Google first started paying. Under the DMCA it has NO legal obligation to pay. The fact that it decided to do so just to keep the music industry happy was guaranteed to open up legal problems… which is exactly what we’re seeing now. Under the DMCA Google has no obligation to pay. The fact that it chose to was simply to try to avoid having to even bother proving that in court. But it’s looking like that backfired.

So, I believe my point is still dead on.

George Riddick (user link) says:

The Wild Wild West - Google and Scribd

It’s like the “wild, wild west” all over again. A stanford educated bank robber robs both the local banks of all their money, sets up shop as the new banker in town, gains customers quickly, sends a small portion of its profits to Washington by pony express to pay off the lobbyists, and the next thing you know it, the CEO is elected the mayor.

Imageline, Inc.

Tgeigs says:

I'm sorry, but no

“…Porter seems to blame Scribd for actions of its users (who knew it was so difficult to separate out the drivers from the automakers). “

Look, I’m not on the side of stupid dinosaurs and their outdated business models, but when we, as rational people, begin saying things like this, I think it hurts our argument.

Scribd, Pirate Bay, etc. are NOT like automakers, with their users as the drivers, because the automakers don’t provide the roads, highways, traffic signals, etc. I think a more apt analogy is that they’re like one of those small groups that puts on a rave. They provide the space, set it up, coordinate the music, the drinks, etc. Then when seven kids overdose on ecstacy, they shrug their shoulders and tell the cops they aren’t responsible for the illegal things that go on in their legally provided for space. And to a point, they’re right, but that doesn’t make IT right.

Now, we can make the argument that piracy isn’t so much Eric the Red piracy as Robin Hood piracy, and I happen to be mostly OK w/that argument. But let’s not pretend that these torrent hosting sites are something they aren’t.

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:


Mr. Porter’s comment:

Google is in the final analysis a parasite
that creates nothing, merely offering little
aggregation, lists and the ordering of information
generated by people who have invested their
capital, skill and time

demonstrates (IMO) either incredible ignorance of, or incredible contempt for,investment of capital and time of the reader. It seems that Mr. Porter would have me waste my money (on bandwidth) and time (which I value highly) slogging through petabytes of content with no filtering or aggregating tool whatsoever.

Google saves me a lot of time when I am seeking information. By calling Google a parasite I understand him to claiming they provide no value. Therefore my time savings has no value. Therefore my time has no value.

I am insulted by the implication that my time is worth nothing. I do not patronize merchants who do not respect me.

George Riddick (user link) says:

Goggle and the "safe harbor" - strip shows are next

The question is not “do clowns have value?” The question is “should clowns be required to follow the law like the rest of us?

Will strip shows be next to claim “safe harbors”?

They are like the Stanford brainiacs dressed in clown costumes at the local state fair. They take a piece of all parking paid for prime spots on front and back lawns, and in allies and side streets. Pay up or your windows are smashed.

They move those bright orange cones around to drive the flow of traffic directly to their “site”, claiming everything inside is “FREE”!

They allow advertisers to hawk their t-shirts, balloons, elephant ears, stuffed animals, and waffle cones to all of the foot traffic, with, of course, a decent piece of change coming back to the “clowns”. Port-a-potties are even made available … and for only $4.95 a minute.

Inside the main tent, they then allow vendors to set up tables selling mink and beaver skins and fur coats, snake skin wallets, elephant ivory, child pornography magazines and videos, casino tokens, and stolen books, music, movies, and artwork, but only in digital form.

When someone complains, or the “man” passes by, they ask that the tables be folded up for awhile.

They claim they are too damn busy, and overrun with traffic, and left over furs, to monitor what’s put on their tables for re-sale.

They tell “willful blindness” jokes to each other while taking routine smoke breaks and sitting on small metal chairs just outside the back of the tent.

They bring in catered gourmet meals and give each other full body massages on the hour. “Clowns” are people, too, you know.

“Ain’t life as a pirate dressed up like a clown in these safe harbors of the DMCA grand?”

These companies are no more exempt “service providers” than the fat lady in the strip show next door.

Get real folks.

Didn’t any of you notice that was Eric over there in the corner with that huge red nose on his face? You know, the guy making all of the honking sounds!

Imageline, Inc.

Flenka Schorr says:

Re: Goggle and the "safe harbor" - strip shows are next

Wow, you spent a lot of time on a useless, obliquely metaphorical, idiotic rant that sheds light on nothing. How many times did you read over that making sure you got every little word positioned for just the right amount of impenetrable snark? Did you have to go back and add “scare quotes” to every paragraph or does that kind word-punching BS come naturally to you?

Go to work, dude.

Jasen Webster (profile) says:

I agree with Mike.

I look at these sites like apartment complexes. An apartment manager is not liable for the actions of a tenant. If someone complains to the apartment complex manager, then the manager addresses the tenant. I’d like to see the police go after an apartment manager for criminal activies performed by a tenant. That just doesn’t happen. I think this is the point that Mike was trying to make with his analogy.

I also agree with Mike on the point that Google provides a service not content. Using any of Google’s services is much like taking a taxi cab. I certainly wouldn’t blame the cab driver for a not so good meal at a restaurant.

Our country is becoming more service oriented and people are struggling with that, especially older generations that grew up during the industrial age. Porter should focus on companies that don’t innovate or provide services their customers actually want. While the rest of corporate America struggles (and some crumble) in a down economy, Google is still going strong and will not be asking Congress for any bailout money.

Does this mean everyone should love Google? Absolutely not. There are plenty of other service providers out there for those that despise all things Google.

John S says:

The Bottom Line

Whatever the analogies, the bottom line is that the Internet, at its essence, is a collection of content. Google is a service that helps users navigate that content in a direct manner, and in doing so, collect revenue through their process which they share with the content publisher.

The implication is that if the content providers start going broke, who will supply GOOD, well-produced content? No one really wants to watch/process/read tons of poorly curated, ill conceived video and text – that’s why we have media brands and media outlets which are known for their ability to sift through the garbage and give us what we want. If these brands/outlets go away, with what are we left?

What’s interesting to note is that the “service providers” – which are effectively intermediaries, and nothing more – are worth orders of magnitude more than the content suppliers who the service – b/c the service provider economics are so much better. Perhaps the content providers, en masse, should push back and demand a greater economic share from Google…Google is nothing without the content for which it provides navigation. Look at Technorati – why is it irrelevant? B/c it indexes and makes searchable content which is so niche that no real money is available for their model.

As for Scrib’d, it’s irresponsible for them to let people post content and have the posters be responsible for ‘self policing’ – we all know where that gets us – can you say ‘free market economy?’ – look at our ‘self policing’ investment banking sector. Sure, there’s the SEC, about as effective as the enforcement of the DMCA legislation. Somehow, copyrights must be respected – if not, then the content creators suffers and slowly disappear, as does the overall quality of online-available content…

Brian Critchfield (user link) says:

At YUDU, we struggle with the same issue

I work for a competing site to Scribd named YUDU ( Our heritage is in the publishing industry, so we try and protect content and copyrights as much as possible. However, it is a constant balance between freedom to publish and copyright protection. We have language when a user goes to publish that warns against copyright abuse and each person is required to confirm they have the right to publish the document. However, copyright abuses can still occur.

In the end, we rely on user policing more than anything. Reports of copyright abuse are taken very seriously and are dealt with quickly. However, our site is a bit different from our competitors in the fact that we not only offer free publishing and distribution but we also have a marketplace for purchasing eBooks and digital content. As such, we have to be a little more vigilant on copyright issues.

Many of our clients are traditional publications, such as magazines and newspapers. The number of users is very appealing to this industry because it offers a virtual newsstand. It almost creates a chicken or egg scenario.

In the end, we believe the positives outweigh the negatives significantly. We have thousands of authors who offer teaser editions on in order to sell more of their books and musicians who upload their music for the purpose of acquiring more listeners. The freedom to share your expertise with the world is limitless.

Traditional media has the chance to either continue to condemn these new content distribution models and risk being left behind, or embrace them, as many of our clients have, and reap the enormous benefits. This is truly a tipping point in the publishing industry.

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