Is Google Just Toying With Newspapers Now?

from the that-seems-mean dept

When it was leaked last week that Google is offering up a micropayment solution for newspapers, my cynical side noted that this seemed like Google giving the newspaper industry tools to commit suicide faster. Then, earlier this week, Google unveiled its new "Fast Flip" application, which tries to make the process of skimming news more like reading a physical paper. Sorta. Or, as many people have pointed out, it mimics the old "microfiche" machines that we old folks used to have to use to scan archived newspapers in the library. It was inconvenient and annoying then, and it doesn't seem that much better now (though, at least we don't have to deal with getting the whole negative/positive thing straight).

I almost wasn't going to say anything about it, but Jeff Sonderman points me to a post at the Online Journalism Blog that suggests (similar to my thoughts on the micropayment stuff) Google's Fast Flip is a cruel joke being played on the news industry (on purpose or not). At that link, Paul Bradshaw argues that the cruel joke is that Google would benefit more from this than any newspaper -- and that might be true, but I get the feeling this is more about false hope for newspapers. Google has taken some criticism for "not helping" newspapers. So now it wants to show the world that it's doing something. But the problem isn't Google. The problem is that newspapers aren't doing anything to help themselves. Working with Google on some gimmick isn't going to change that, even if it does give them false hope.

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  • identicon
    Doctor Strange, 15 Sep 2009 @ 4:48pm

    But the problem isn't Google. The problem is that newspapers aren't doing anything to help themselves. Working with Google on some gimmick isn't going to change that, even if it does give them false hope.

    Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, wrote about Google and newspapers earlier this year.

    Schmidt, who I assume knows something about business models and making money, admits straight out that he can't think of a business model that can sustain newspapers.

    Even if the advice for newspapers here, "mumble mumble something about community mumble mumble" were actionable in some reasonable way, there's no evidence that such a business model could sustain a newspaper in any recognizable form. Even if you just pared it down to "journalism + community" without all the other tropes of the newspaper, it's unclear that you could support hard journalism with Internet community revenues. It would just be yet-another "experiment" in the sea of experiments being performed in markets that are evaporating.

    Google and Techdirt seem to have at least one thing in common: they both realize that hard journalism costs too much.

    If you can run a veritable money factory selling ads on entirely machine-generated machinations of other people's content, why hire humans to generate a relatively tiny amount of content for you? If you can run a profitable online community that reports and comments on news gathered by others while scrupulously avoiding doing any actual newsgathering activities (except when it's convenient or novel), why would you sponsor real journalism?

    Don't think I am some kind of apologist for newspapers: their business model clearly hasn't created optimal high-quality journalism either, but things could get a lot worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bigpicture, 15 Sep 2009 @ 5:48pm

      Re: Summary

      And that could just about sum it up. Is there any real journalism any more? You know like the guys who dug up Watergate?

      Or is it all regurgitation of words from taped interviews, and presented in nice prose without any checking if the words are factual or just more drivel and crap.

      I might even pay for news if I could be certain it was news and not just some special interest force fed spin.

      All this hullabaloo has been going on and on about the newspaper business model. Nothing is ever said about the deterioration in quality of the product. It is the same question: what makes proprietary software better than open source? All other technical/convenience things being equal, how does it distinguish itself as having more value so people have no problem paying?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Call me Al, 16 Sep 2009 @ 3:10am

        Re: Re: Summary

        There is certainly real journalism still around of that kind of level. Its never been common and we shouldn't forget that just because they don't do it all the time doesn't mean they aren't trying to.

        In the UK earlier this year the Telegraph did an enormous study into the expenses o Members of Parliament. The effect of this has been quite huge and it was a wonderfully well researched and reported piece of investigative journalism. Interestingly the Telegraph made full use of their online paper to report other aspects of the story where they just didn't have space in the hardcopy.

        To return to the topic, I have to say I quite like this development from Google. I've had a quick look at the site and could see myself using it if it was rolled out in the UK. I think this could also prove a useful tool for taking the wind out of the sales of the papers themselves, as to some extent they are getting what they asked for and now its up to them to use it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Alan Gerow (profile), 16 Sep 2009 @ 9:57am


      That's probably why newspapers stopped writing news and started to only printing AP stories & press releases. The only real journalism happening any more seems to be coming from the blogosphere where true investigative reporting is still happening.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wesha, 15 Sep 2009 @ 4:55pm

    Honestly, I do see some limited utility in this -- loading the story's page takes much longer than the "flippy" picture, so if I'm just bouncing around, I'd rather be "flipping".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lowerison (profile), 15 Sep 2009 @ 6:24pm

      Re: Utility

      Not that I think it is going to replace RSS or my Google home page but I think it is kind of nice to see the articles in their original context. Funny thing was since Techdirt kindof slammed the idea I didn't figure the articles would be click-able. At the very least the popular mechanics ones are and now I am prepared to survive any disaster (Like for example the failing of the newspaper industry).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2009 @ 5:32pm

    What I also like about this is that unlike the rss feeds and other means of pulling news stories from their source into news aggregators, this offer a reason to actually click through to the source website, where they are selling their own adds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2009 @ 6:43pm

    The long drawn out boring death of a "gap play"

    People keep mistaking "value", which is a consumer assessment with "quality", which is an creator assessment.

    Sometimes consumers put value on quality. Many times they don't. In fact, on transient things, people will tend to go with low cost over *any* quality. The fact that "news" is only "new" for an instant, makes it very transient.

    The truth is, in a world where information can move quickly and freely, information at *any* quality has little value.

    Newspapers were a gap play. That gap has closed. As the news publisher goes, so too will the media publisher.

    Smart money would exit the publishing business, and move on to something completely other. Something not obsoleted by current technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Trerro, 15 Sep 2009 @ 8:23pm

    The advantage of the newspapers has always been local content, and sure enough, the ones that AREN'T struggling are the ones that still provide that. Boston has a paper called The Weekly Dig, which focuses purely on local stuff - events, news, etc, and even includes a column making fun of the mainstream media. The fact that a lot of their stuff is written with an almost Fark-level amount of snark helps as well. :P It's a free paper, and a quite profitable one. Indeed, it's pretty much the only one that the newsstands frequently run out of (the other free ones in particular, barely move.)

    Now, obviously this isn't a traditional paper, but the point is that it succeeds because it provides useful, local content that you CAN'T easily get from an online news site or via a 15 second Google search.

    I have Rueters' RSS feed on my reader... if your paper is just repeating what's on that feed, then you are offering me literally less than nothing - you're making it take longer to get info I already have access to. Even if your paper is FREE, it's not worth my time when I can just hit a website, skip straight to the articles I'm interested in, read them, and move on.

    Many newspapers survived on reprinting AP and Rueters stuff, because it was the only way to get that news. That is very much no longer true - remaining papers need to adapt or die. Yes, having a good, easy to navigate site is important. Yes, creating a real community around your site helps a LOT. However, if you can't provide actual news that people can't get elsewhere, than there's no reason to be reading your paper OR your site, and you're going to die with the other papers that fail to realize this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 16 Sep 2009 @ 7:29am

    OMG .... Brilliant !!!

    Dear Google

    It was recently brought to my attention that you are assisting the NewsPapers in an attempt to save their business model. Could you please also help the music industry in their attempt to save their business model.

    Thanks in advance


    ....Wicked Evil Grin

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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