WSJ Editor Claims Google Devalues Everything

from the no-wonder-no-one-uses-it dept

This has been clueless newspaper guy month around here, and it's kept up with the appearance of Walter Isaacson (yet again), Mort Zuckerman (owner/publisher of both the NY Daily News and US News & World Reports) and Robert Thomson (managing editor of The Wall Street Journal) on the Charlie Rose program, where they spend plenty of time whining about the way things used to be and why people have to start paying -- but never touch on any reason why people should want to pay. Still... that's a dead horse at this point. Instead, I wanted to focus on the rather stunning claim from Thomson concerning Google:
But one of the -- Google -- I mean, the harsh way of just defining it, Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it's terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.
This is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Google doesn't devalue things it touches. It increases their value by making them easier to find and access. Google increases your audience as a content creator, which is the most important asset you have. It takes a special kind of cluelessness to claim that something that increases your biggest asset "devalues" your business. Thomson's mistake seems to be that he's confusing "price" and "value" which is a bit scary for the managing editor of a business publication. Yes, the widespread availability of news may push down the price (that's just supply and demand), but it doesn't decrease the value at all. It opens up more opportunities to capture that value.

As a content publisher, I can say, definitively, that Thomson is completely off base if he thinks Google is terrible for content providers. Google has been a huge help to us because it has helped us build our audience and our community -- which is the biggest asset we have. Thomson's mistake seems to be that he thinks the asset of publishers is the content. It's not. It's the community. It's the community. It's the community. Sorry for the repetition, but it doesn't seem to be getting through.

He's also wrong if he thinks Google divides content "quantitatively." Google's ranking mechanism is the exact opposite. It works out ways to measure the value of content at a qualitative level -- pushing the best content up. If the WSJ is afraid to compete with other content providers, you can understand why they'd be afraid -- but if they truly believe they have good content, that content will rise to the top (of course, the WSJ is harmed by its practice of making that content harder to read).

Finally, he's very wrong that the key to getting people to pay is to have them "make qualitative decisions about that content." If they've reached that stage, they're not paying. The value of the web and Google is that it lets people look at many sources and compare and contrast them qualitatively. Putting up a paywall is what devalues the content. It makes it harder to access and makes it a lot less useful. People today want to share the news and spread the news and discuss the news with others. As a publisher, your biggest distributors should be your community. And what does the WSJ want to do? Stop the community from promoting them. I can't think of anything that devalues their content more.

In that one paragraph, Thomson seems to be wrong on every single point. Is there a way to short the Wall Street Journal? It's really stunning that these newspaper guys (Isaacson goes on to agree with Thomson) can be handed the greatest mechanism for building their audience and adding value to their sites, and they whine about how it devalues them. It's the horse carriage company owners complaining about how automobiles destroy the value of a beautiful horse drawn carriage. Guys: you're looking in the wrong direction. Turn around and look forward at all that opportunity.
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Filed Under: economics, journalism, news, price, value
Companies: google, wall street journal


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  1. identicon
    John Henderson, 13 Feb 2009 @ 12:23pm

    So -- who will pay for the news?

    There are no journalism outlets of significance that provide _original_ and serious journalism purely on the Web and make money doing it.

    Is techdirt -- or anyone else -- ready to start a serious online pub tomorrow and take on the likes of the WSJ or Times? If not, why not?

    Mike, VC's utter lack of interest in what you claim is so easy disposes of the argument.

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