Journalist Demands Google Give Up Its 'Fair Share' To Newspapers
from the this-again? dept
The great thing, by the way, is that the comments on the article highlight pretty much every mistake that Osnos makes -- and, of course, as is oh-so-typical in these situations, Osnos does nothing at all to engage or respond to the comments that call out his mistakes. You want to know why newspapers are failing? It's not because of Google, it's because of this viewpoint that some journalists still hold that they're the masters of the truth, handing it out from on high, wanting nothing at all to do with the riff raff in the comments.
So, what's wrong specifically with the article? Well, he uses as his basis the idea that cable companies (and their subscribers, really) pay TV networks to be carried in cable packages, and suggests that Google should be doing the same thing -- paying newspapers as if they were networks. Of course, there are a few problems there. Television is a broadcast medium with a limit on what can be provided. The economics are entirely different than a communications medium with unlimited "space" for content. Suggesting the two are the same is simply wrong. The economics are entirely different. In one case, you have significant scarcities in terms of what gets "offered." That's not the case with the internet. Ignoring that destroys Osnos' entire argument.
Even more to the point, as one of the commenters to Osnos, Kimota, notes: "It's interesting that cable television was held up as a good example of how to extract subscription fees for content. The American Customer Satisfaction Index from the University of Michigan said in 2007 that cable and satellite TV suffered 'the lowest level of customer satisfaction among all industries covered.'" When your idea of how to save the newspaper business is to take a model mostly beloved by consumers and ask it to mimic a model almost universally hated... that's a problem, right?
The second big problem with Osnos' analysis is that he doesn't appear to understand how Google makes its money. He simply looks at the fact that it's making a ton of money, while newspapers are not, and assumes that Google's actions draw in the money that should have gone to newspapers (hence the "unfairness"). But as Scott Rosenberg notes in the comments again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Google makes its money, which has little to nothing to do with news, but in targeted advertisements on transactional searches (searches where people are looking to buy something):
Google makes its money mostly from targeted advertising on product searches and other narrow, directed searches. The advertising on news-related searches is not nearly as valuable. Google could remove all newspapers and journalism content from its Web search catalog tomorrow and lose very little of its revenue. The links to news it provides are valuable to its users but not terribly valuable to its advertisers.Finally, Osnos makes another big mistake, common among newspaper folks, that whoever breaks the news is obviously the most valuable source. Yet, as we were just discussing, being first doesn't always mean that you have the most useful information. Related to this, Osnos complains specifically about how Sports Illustrated broke a story, but Google News pointed more people to the Huffington Post coverage of that particular story, stating:
Most galling was that The Huffington Post's use of an Associated Press version of SI's report was initially tops on Google, which meant that it, and not SI.com, tended to be the place readers clicking through to get the gist of the breaking scandal would land.... Why did The Huffington Post come up ahead of SI.com? Because, even Google insiders concede, Huffington is effective at implementing search optimization techniques, which means that its manipulation of keywords, search terms, and the dynamics of Web protocol give it an advantage over others scrambling to be the place readers are sent by search engines. What angered the people at Sports Illustrated and Time Inc. is that Google, acting as traffic conductor, seemed unmoved by their grievance over what had happened to their ownership of the story. An SI editor quoted to me Time Inc's editor-in-chief, John Huey, noting crisply that, "talking to Google is like trying to talk to a television."This, of course, is a gross distortion of reality, and implies totally incorrectly that somehow the Huffington Post has some power over Google that SI.com could not replicate. The fact that Sports Illustrated and other publications have made bad decisions in optimizing their content isn't Google's fault. It's their own fault. Here, let me put this in terms that old "paper" folks might get: If more people go to my store than your store because I put a better ad in the Yellow pages, it's not the fault of the Yellow pages publisher. It's your fault for having a crappy ad. By doing a better job optimizing its content, the Huffington Post effectively better "advertised" itself to Google.
Of course, old school publications like Sports Illustrated could just as easily do the same thing themselves, but they haven't. On top of that, they could offer more useful features and services that attract more people such that they specifically seek out SI's coverage. But, instead, they treat the community the same way Osnos seems to: the riff raff can comment, but they aren't a part of the "real conversation" that occurs outside of the community.
Osnos wants fairness, but the system is amazingly fair. Much more fair than it ever was in the past, in fact. The problem isn't about "fairness." It's about Osnos being upset that in a level playing field pretty much everyone but the newspapers have figured out how to play the game better. What's fair is that the newspapers haven't been able to adjust and their revenue and readership is reflecting that.