Google is making nice with news publishers all of a sudden. Or so it might seem.
The relationship has been uneasy for years. With Google News and other aggregation services, Google improved searchability and discoverability outside the boundaries of news entities to such an extent that the package called a “newspaper” lost its inherent value — single articles could be very valuable, but monetizing these in a meaningful way was impossible because they were unpredictable and easily supplanted by meta-coverage.
Google began to look like the enemy of newspapers.
But now they’re playing nice.
Recently, Google announced the development of a micropayment system targeting newspaper subscriptions and article payments. Newspapers must have felt the cool draft of freedom as the lion’s paws parted, the crushing heat of its hungry breath abating as rays of hope broke over the scene.
Then Google announced FastFlip, a new service that’s a radical departure on two fronts — first, Google is presenting substantial amounts of publisher content on its site; and, second, Google is sharing ad revenues with the 30 participating publishers.
All this seems nice. FastFlip pages show only a portion of the content, and news providers get an undisclosed share of ad revenues from the FastFlip page views.
But is Google really extending the open hand?
Let’s look at the micropayment offering first. Google has been trying to leverage a micropayment platform for years, to compete with PayPal and others. But it has been stymied due to a lack of integration with bank accounts and some other logistical deficiencies, in addition to eBay‘s refusal to use it since it competes with PayPal. So, extending a micropayment plan to news providers seems pretty paltry. It didn’t take much effort, and the chances for meaningful improvements in revenues is slight.
So what about FastFlip? The primary question is, Who really benefits? If Google’s playing nice, the benefit is mutual. But given the terseness of many blog posts and news stories, combined with the inverted pyramid structure of journalism, you don’t need to read much more than what’s presented in Google’s FastFlip preview. So, essentially, Google has created a meta-level of news browsing that they get a share of. Granted, the UI is nice, but other tools can do these things, including some feed readers and some browser plug-ins.
Google’s trying to get more ad revenue from news providers. It will share some, but the “win” seems to favor Google.
Newspapers still seem a little oblivious, at least in public statements. For instance, the SVP of Digital Operations at the New York Times was quoted as saying:
There’s no grand plan here, nothing more to this other than learning. This is not about any kind of large strategic relationship issue.
Learning? No large strategic relationship? Excuse me, but do you think you’re still in the driver’s seat here, Mr. Newsman? I think Google is the one learning, and if I were running a newspaper, I’d be making a large strategic relationship with them yesterday.
But I’m not, so all I can do is wonder if Google is really playing nice and if news organizations are really adapting well.
Is the answer clear from these initiatives?
As they say at Google, search me.