Can Google make print work this time?

by Mathew on November 6, 2006 · 11 comments

In newspaper boardrooms across the United States, the news that Google wants to get into the print advertising business is probably causing a mix of emotions — a combination of those old favourites, fear and greed. Fear because newspapers are afraid that Google might somehow make it even less profitable to run a paper than it already is, and greed because Google is so ridiculously successful that it’s natural to wonder whether some of that might spill over.

Forgotten by many in their excitement to board the Google party train, however (typical newspaper guy: “Does this mean we all get Segways and free candy?”) is the fact that the search behemoth has already tried this particular strategy once, and more or less… well, failed. Google ran a trial project involving a couple of dozen high-profile magazines, and before too long it became obvious that it just wasn’t working. Google said it was just an experiment, and that it learned a lot.


Why didn’t it work? Mike Masnick at Techdirt had a few clues: For one thing, Google doesn’t really bring any kind of competitive edge to the print advertising game the way it does to Internet search-related advertising, where its giant algorithm machine spins a web that drags Internet surfers in like flies and practically forces them to click on ads whether they want to or not. In magazines (and newspapers), there’s no algorithm-powered search, and no search-related ads.

If nothing else, meanwhile, Google’s desire to move into newspaper ads — which it apparently thinks are a better fit than magazines — is yet another signal of its unquenchable thirst for ad inventory of any kind, so that it can keep growing at those triple-digit rates the stock market is so enamoured with. And let’s face it: the newspaper business needs all the help it can get. Although Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 points out that one of the unintended consequences of the Google experiment could be that it only reinforces how disconnected and hard to measure print advertising really is.

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