FastFlip presents pages in a browsable pane
FastFlip presents pages in a browsable pane

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.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


5 Thoughts on "Google Makes Nice with News Publishers"

Ok, I’ll bite (puts on flack jacket and helmet and hunkers down)
Here’s a telling quote from the article you linked to:

“I mean, really, how often are you going to scroll through an A-Z list of thousands of action movies? I’m guessing not very often.”

Hands-up if you’ve observed a teenager with an ipod… You know where I’m going with this right? Coverflow. The system whereby the futures of our various nations hit the scroll button and do precisely what the journalist is deriding. Probably whilst texting and watching tv.

Kent’s point is right on – Google will learn from this, they will measure absolutely everything they can about the visitors to the site. Wonder if they will share that info with their partners?

To me, the Google flip thing is a not very subtle way of saying – Newspapers, the way you mix your ads and your content does not work. We can do it better.

They strip out the ads from the rendering of the originating site. If you click on a site in flip, you’ll see what I mean.

Now, it doesn’t look great, but then with Google’s agile development methodology, that’s the point. Get it out, get the feedback on what the real triggers are for use, and then iterate. The question is, whether they are serious about this, or are just messing around (which they do seem to do with some regularity).

Scott Karp made a point about how Google were doing the innovation here and not the newspapers. I think that point is valid, even if the initial results might be less than inspiring.

Mind you, I spent a nice few minutes flipping through the space category stories and I felt it really worked, even if the Google look and feel isn’t quite to my taste.

I guess the question then is whether this is an appropriate interface for reading newspapers/magazines. Kids may scroll in a similar way on their iPods, but are they the target audience for the NY Times? And is there a difference between glancing at an album cover and reading (at least) the beginning of a news article?

As you say, Google will see what happens. They’re very accomplished at this, throwing things up against the wall and analyzing to see what sticks.

Just to throw in another link, here’s an interesting piece on why newspapers aren’t innovating.

Another link for you to ponder on this can be found at the Publishing 2.0 site, Scott Karp’s salient views on all things dynamic.

This has some bearing on our back and forth last week about standards and UI. Packaging matters, and Google has actually been pretty masterful at packaging information. Google Earth. Google Maps. Google search. Google Street View. FastFlip’s attempt to package pages is fast, fun, and useful already. It’s not perfect, but nothing will please everyone. It’s like Google Chrome in some ways. It’s like the iPhone in some ways. There is some interface convergence going on here, and when UIs converge, I think you have a game-changer at the customer interface.

I think this is the thin end of a wedge.

I’m in complete agreement that experiments with form and presentation are valuable and worth watching. This particular one though, strikes me as being a bit backwards in that it is trying to make the internet more “magazine-like”, rather than capitalizing on the strengths of the online interface, a step backwards rather than a step forwards.

As you wrote here, just dumping textbooks into an electronic format that attempts to resemble a paper textbook is a missed opportunity. I feel the same way about translating a magazine article to an online version by using a picture of a magazine/newspaper article. I guess there may be some value for someone who is bored and wants to flip through the news, but if you’re actively researching a topic in a search engine, the sorts of text answers that Google (and now Bing) present are a lot more efficient.

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