Print Media: All Bark, No Bite Says Google

By JEgererJEgerer (1258339220|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

Print media lashes out at the figure head, Google, of its arch enemy, the internet, in an effort to protect content.

Print vs. Google

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Heated competition between the front page and webpage is nothing new, but lately Google is finding itself in the middle of a storm of complaints and litigation about the way it uses print media and news media.

Deep Pockets Make Friends in Print

Most of us are familiar with the copyright lawsuit pending over the creation of Google Books. Although, this one hasn’t been put to bed entirely, it appears that a $125 million settlement for the use of out-of-print titles will put an end to this version of the attack. More on this settlement can be found here.

News Sources Flex Their Muscles

However, print media has mounted multiple offenses. Just this week Tom Curley, President of the Associated Press met with people at Google to try to throw his companies weight around.

He wants Google to elevate the ranking of AP stories so they appear more promiinently in search results. He also wants a cut of the revenue from ads Google runs alongside the top news stories. Curley claims that AP gets paid for less than 15 percent of its stories on the Web.

Curley wants Google to create "landing pages" where users will be directed to original AP stories and away from secondary sources. He also wants the aggregator to institute a "news registry" that would detect unlicensed uses of AP content.

More on Curley’s demands here.

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In a related move, media mogul Rupert Murdoch recently claimed that if Google wasn’t willing to make similar concessions he would block the site from indexing all of News Corp.’s content. This would purportedly take publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and MySpace off the Google map.

These are heavy demands to be making, which begs to question, are they warranted? Sure a company like Walmart can submit endless pressure on its suppliers because that’s where the value is for product manufacturers, but is the relationship between news sources and Google the same. Who is the benefactor of the relationship, and to what extent?


Where does Google go from here?

Thinking strategically, there are 4 main perspectives Google might consider as a result of this standoff:

  1. Print media pulls out, Google loses
  2. Print media pulls out, Print Survives
  3. Print media pulls out, nothing changes
  4. Print media pulls out, and shoots itself in the foot

Print media pulls out, Google loses

The argument for Google losing from this deal suggests that if these publishers block their content from Google indexing news traffic with find another home base like Yahoo! or Bing. This is undoubtedly true… that is if another engine is willing to make the necessarily concessions. I find it hard to believe another major site, all of which are struggling to keep up with Google, will be able to pony up the cash in their business models to permit such a partnership. It seems to me that if you price yourself out of Google’s market.. then you’ve priced yourself out of the market.

Print media pulls out, Print survives

Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Miller proposes that the papers can survive without search engine traffic without a problem.

"The traffic which comes in from Google brings a consumer who more often than not read one article and then leaves the site," the British newspaper Telegraph quoted Miller as saying Thursday. "That is the least valuable of traffic to us? the economic impact [of not having content indexed by Google] is not as great as you might think. You can survive without it."

Miller makes a good point, I am sure that the average web trafficker is the least valuable to the papers. That said, millions of ‘least valuable’ traffickers make a pretty valuable market. Below are some stats on the traffic generated by Google for the Wall Street Journal.

  • Google and Google news are the top traffic sources for WSJ.com content with for over 25% of WSJ.com’s traffic.
  • Over 44% of WSJ.com visitors coming from Google are “new” users that have not visited the domain within the last 30 days.
  • Twitter and Facebook sent only 4% of all US visits to News sites during October 2009.

In addition to the sheer volume of traffic being funneled through the search engines, Miller also neglects to estimate the exposure effect. Just how many of these one article surfers having found the site set it as a bookmark, or subscribe to the print version. Its unclear how much Google indexing serves as an advertising vehicle for the paper itself. I have to respectfully disagree with you Jonny, print needs the web.

Print media pulls out, nothing changes

There’s also an argument to be made that pulling the plug will only open the door for the uncontrollable, illegal distribution of content.

"If Murdoch did decide to block all content, he risks that content just being found on sketchy ‘less reputable sites’ through search crawling. In reality illegal scraping will continue and search engines may struggle to know the difference. They will still crawl the scraped content, without ever knowing that the content is News Corp. property."

"At least with with News Corp.’s content indexed correctly in the search engines, the engines will be able to rank the quality original content higher in the search results forcing the scraped versions to drop down below the fold."

I hardly think print media is a position to relinquish what little control they have over their content. At least the status quo allows Google to provide some protection to the news sources. In this scenario, Google loses no traffic at all as users will just be directed to less legitimate homes for the same stories.

Print media pulls out, and shoots itself in the foot

"Whats Google’s take on this? “If publishers want their content removed from Google News specifically all they need to do is tell us.”

"To put it simply, Google is ok with Murdoch’s haired brained scheme. Go ahead pull out."

Google knows the arena it is operating in. As mentioned the loss of news sources only means a loss for Google if A) another engine makes the concessions Google will not (unlikely!), and B) users opt to use this engine for its news prowess, rather than utilizing the results on the illegally distributed pages which would now be found on the Google engine. Additionally, print media traffic is just a fraction of Google’s overall search traffic while it generates almost a majority share of traffic to publication websites. It is clear who is more reliant on this relationship.

Murdoch and Curley also need to this about this move from a game theory perspective. If all of news media is not media this indexing block, then those who take the lead will be the only ones suffering. By blocking their content from search a company’s traffic is simply shifted to the remaining the news sources. In essence, a move like this by a single company is nothing more than feeding traffic to the competition.

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The Larger Context

It is pretty clear that not only does Google have the power to dictate the relationship in this value chain, but also that no attacks from print media are of a material effect to Google’s model.

That said, it may be in the best interest of Google to be flexible to a degree with these issues. I say this because these kind of attacks bring attention to the larger question of the legality of what search engines do as far as working with webpage information without permission.

Copyright law has not caught up to the internet, but the prevalence lawsuits like the Google Books case, and heavily exposure to feuds like that between Murdoch and Google will certainly draw attention to this. The web operates so freely at the moment, that I think any action taken to adapt copyright law to the internet will surely err towards the side of regulation; this could severely undercut Google’s business model.

Given this, I think it wise that Google weigh the cost of concession now with the potential costs of having powerful print or online sources as enemies in the future, when content protection is under review.

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