Monday, 9 February 2009

Can newspapers survive online without Google?

I've been reading David A Vise's fascinating story behind Google which is aptly named The Google Story. Thanks to colleague Jo Kelly for the recommendation.

There's no denying that Sergey Brin and Larry Page have revolutionised how we use the web. The duo have opened up what was once purely the domain of techies, the world wide web, to the masses.

The Stanford undergraduates couldn't have known what their early online experiments were to become, or how their brand new invention would change the media industry forever.

And while some newspaper companies recoiled in horror when Google unveiled its Google News service, most of these companies have now learned the error of their ways and have rushed to register their sites. The reason is simple - it's where the traffic is. And while news companies' advertising departments struggle to get their heads around the web, there is one thing they understand - traffic equals cash.

But given the former newspaper companies' difficulties in monetising their web offerings, should they/we be looking into going into partnership with Google?

After all Brin and Page not only devised the best search engine, but with CEO Eric Schmidt, they found the Holy Grail ... how to make money through online advertising. Money which once flowed through the pages of newspapers, now goes into Google ads.

Many newspaper companies have long been facing the abyss, the current world-wide financial crisis hasn't made matters any easier, as revenues have dried up. Newspapers' most valuable commodity is their content. But every company has so far failed to find a way of monetising that content.

Meanwhile, Google has, and it isn't in the internet giant's interest to let newspapers die. It is newspapers which generate content, which in turn is attracting users onto Google News.

You could argue that Google has become the biggest media parasite in the world. Mr Schmidt has ruled out a Google bail out for troubled newspaper companies (see here for a Wired account), but Google could still very well be the saviour of news companies.

While Google relies on news companies producing content, news companies rely on ad revenue. What better time for a mutually beneficial arrangement between Google and the news industry where revenue is shared turning Google from media parasite to media company symbiont.

It's at least worth further investigation - what's the alternative?