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.