Google and the wires torpedo newspapers

by Mathew on September 1, 2007 · 21 comments

A fascinating announcement from Google about an arrangement with four of the world’s major wire services that will see their content featured more prominently on Google News. As far as I can tell, this deal has one major loser: namely, the thousands of newspapers that use content from those services, and are now going to see that traffic disappear.

225626046_a2bf5db0dc_m.jpgAs I understand it, the arrangement between Google and Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, the British Press Association and Canadian Press will see the content from those wire services appear on Google News with the logo of the wire service prominently displayed, and Google has agreed to give the wires’ version of a story prominence over the thousands of versions of that story that appear on the websites of the various newspapers that are members of AP, AFP, etc.

This is potentially explosive, I think. Whenever I search for a news story in Google News, I get hundreds of identical versions of that story from newspapers that picked it up from Associated Press — and I may even click through to the first newspaper that has a copy. But if I can see the story from the wire service itself, before it was edited or shortened or changed, I would probably prefer that. The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss has more here.

And while a Google spokesman said the changes “will have little impact on news organizations that receive traffic directly from Google News,” a Reuters story on the deal noted that:

“Because of Google’s campaign to simultaneously reduce duplicate articles, the original wire service article is likely to be featured in Google News instead of versions of the same article from newspaper customers, sapping ad revenue to those newspapers.”

In a sense, the deal with Google News puts wire services such as Reuters and AP into competition with the newspapers that are its members and customers — and will only increase the pressure on newspapers (and there are a lot of them) that continue to rely on wire copy to fill both their virtual and their real pages. And this new development is particularly interesting given Google’s recent plan to allow newsmakers to comment on Google News stories.

Further reading:

Dan Gillmor’s thoughts are here. Steven Hodson has some reaction at WinExtra and James Robertson thinks that the newspaper business has to go back to the future. Elsewhere, Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests says this puts the lie to Google’s repeated protests that it doesn’t compete with newspapers, Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land puts the announcement into context, and my friend Scott Karp provides some perspective at Publishing 2.0. Steve Boriss also has a post at The Future of News.

And a commenter on Lost Remote’s post sums it up thus:

“Damn. I pay a ton of money for AP rights every year, and while it’s primary for the audience hitting our home page, I see a huge number of hits to that content from google news users. Guess I can kiss those eyeballs goodbye.”

Indeed. Although William Hartnett of the Palm Beach Post notes that those eyeballs aren’t really worth much anyway.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com/2007/03/25/newspapers-im-not-dead-yet-or-dead-men-walking/ Rob Hyndman

    Hmmm. Potentially interesting distribution for NowPublic. And the newspapers are looking like intermediaries ripe for disintermediation …

  • http://vielmetti.typepad.com Edward Vielmetti

    This will only be good for newspapers like the Marquette (MI) Mining Journal who regularly write original local reporting for their area and don’t rely on wire service filler copy to pad out their online pages.

  • Mathew

    I agree, Rob — and Edward, I think you are right as well.

  • Damon Kiesow

    I would like to hear some more details on this – but at first blush it seems like newspapers now have a strong disincentive to have AP pick up original and/or breaking news items published online first. The AP rewrite of our original story will now get preference in Google news or even cause our original to be un-indexed as a ‘duplicate.’ It seems that could not be true – but would like to hear from AP and Google on that.

  • http://www.pencoyd.com/clock/ John Roberts

    What I have failed to understand for several years now is how the AP can act in a manner so contrary to the needs of its owners/members. Who’s on the AP board again? That’s right… newspapers!

    Matthew, can you explain this?

    John Roberts
    http://www.pencoyd.com/clock/

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    I understand the magnitude of the difference, however, wasn’t the “die cast” when those news services cut the same deal with news.yahoo.com? My instant reaction is to agree with whoever questioned the value of visitor who chanced upon a newspaper’s website because they Google’d a news term. When my local newspaper needs to really start worrying is when I go to Google for local news search, and the local newspaper’s content doesn’t show up.

  • Mathew

    Not sure of the answer to that one, John. And Rex, I think that’s a good point.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Big change, yes. But last I saw, Yahoo News had three times the traffic of Google News. Yahoo News has operated this way for years, and no one ever worries (or has worried) about Yahoo’s impact on local papers.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Oh, Mathew — appreciated the inclusion, but could you change me from working at Search Engine Watch to working at Search Engine Land? I started my own site at Search Engine Land back in December when I left Search Engine Watch. Old habits :)

  • http://www.daviddalka.com/createvalue/ David

    I’ve written a post that goes in another direction, if your theme had proper trackbacks, you’d see that post here.

  • Mathew

    Thanks, Danny — sorry about the name thing.

    And David, I used to have trackbacks, but found that I was getting flooded with trackback spam, so I disabled them. I may turn them back on at some point.

  • http://www.tobiasly.com/ toby johnson

    Any time someone comes along and makes things more efficient by cutting out the middleman or getting rid of older, less efficient means of distribution, the middleman will always complain.

    We’ve seen it with Wal-Mart driving small, inefficient mom-and-pop stores out of business. We’ve seen it with the RIAA and music industry fighting digital distribution of music instead of embracing it.

    And lately we’ve seen newspapers, publishers, and reporters complain that Google News is “stealing” their traffic or somehow providing their content for free. How many times have we heard about newspapers suing Google over Google News?

    I’m sorta surprised it took Google so long to make this move. They have cut out the middleman and made news delivery more efficient. Kudos to them.

  • http://ravinglunacy.org alan herrell

    Danny,
    Yes, on a number of clicks traffic basis news yahoo may have more traffic, but it does it differently than google.

    Your characterization of the Yahoo news site is a bit of misdirection as news yahoo when you click on a link, brings up another yahoo news page, rather than news google which sends you to the source.

    As to why ‘nobody has worried) about Yahoo’s impact on local papers’ it’s probably the just beating up on the 800 lb gorilla meme.

  • http://www.techmeme.com/ Gabe

    One criticism I haven’t seen yet:

    Google doesn’t permit crawling of its hosted news content, even though Google News relies on crawling news content from other sites. (Recall the same was true for the comments on news stories Google announced a few weeks back.)

    E.g., this robots.txt file http://ap.google.com/robots.txt states that nobody may crawl this hosted news article http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gURr_MR-Wtuq2-T70HLknZGGD6Ng

    One consequence: you can use Google Search to find Yahoo News-hosted content, since Yahoo News doesn’t block (http://news.yahoo.com/robots.txt is 404), but you won’t be able to use Yahoo Search to find Google News-hosted content.

    It’s nice to be the market leader in search.

  • http://blogs.nashuatelegraph.com/web_notes Damon Kiesow

    Toby -

    This has nothing to do with ‘middlemen.’ I say Kudos to Google for building whatever business model they want to.

    My problem is – newspapers own the AP and in this case AP seems to be operating against their member’s best interest.

    If AP has some explanation or clarification on how this deal benefits the average paper – I look forward to hear from them.

    Damon

  • António

    “Yahoo News has operated this way for years, and no one ever worries (or has worried) about Yahoo’s impact on local papers.”

    Yes but yahoo didn’t built that service on top of third party news whose headlines, thumbs and bylines they pulled to the service, did they?

  • http://blog.agrawals.org Rocky

    Mathew-

    Great write up. While much of the discussion has focused on traffic loss, I think there’s something equally (if not more) significant.

    Google’s story page has the most user-centric design. Instead of throwing obstacles in the way of users like most news sites do — registration requirements, pop ups, etc. — the page is clean and loads fast.

    I did a screen cast comparing the presentation of the same AP story on three different news sites with Google News’s presentation.

    For the user, the Google presentation is the clear winner.

  • http://www.zaptxt.com Sameer

    This does make me re-think CNN’s stated reasons for not renewing its contract with Reuters. They say its related to cost cutting (which I’m sure has some truth to it) but it may also have something to do with too much reliance on an outside agency for what might be considered a core competency – reporting.

    With Google paving the way for aggregators/distributors to source content directly from newswires, CNN would have less to worry about since more and more of it’s content will now be original reporting.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Alan, good point. Browsing through Yahoo News today, I note that they do seem to be reprinting from most of the sources they list rather than sending people off. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, it’s a good reason not to use Yahoo News, because of the lack of variety.

    But me, I’m a lover not a fighter. Sorry, I like Dangerfield. I mean, I’m a searcher, not a browser. I rarely browse headlines. I search, and searches on Yahoo News do indeed kick you off the site to other sources in many occasions.

  • Dhyana Sansoucie

    AP seems more and more to be operating as a way to earn money off local papers, but their coverage is not improving. They are using new technologies to make searching their content easier (for an added price), but the quality of their own writing is deteriorating, as is the extent of coverage they provide. They are less and less reliable to cover our regional news stories. The writing and editing standards seem to be slipping as well.

    Smaller papers with good local reporting will do fine, and we make an effort to focus our online efforts solely on local news.

    Pretty soon, though, AP may price itself out of what smaller and midsize papers are willing to pay. Everything is focusing more and more on local coverage … and AP isn’t doing much of a job there at all.

    The bigger metropolitan papers may find AP less and less a bargain as well.

    Do newspapers need the AP? Probably. Local papers being able to submit their biggest stories works well. AP’s rewrites aren’t so great, though. Which one would be featured on Google News? AP’s rewritten shorter version or the local version that got sent along to AP, and which organization would get the traffic?

  • http://blogs.nashuatelegraph.com/web_notes Damon Kiesow

    Our first experience with the new AP/Google partnership:

    http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=us&q=yearbook&btnG=Search+News

    The yearbook story was an offbeat piece that was picked up by the national wire. So, instead of Google giving our version (NashuaTelegraph.com) top prominence – the AP/Google page gets the traffic.

    Also at issue – even the regional publications that picked up the wire story (Boston.com, WCAX.com) had preference over our original report. Readership-wise we were the only publication with the photo at the time so ours was really the best report.

    But – despite our angst at this – we have the last laugh as Fark.com ended up pointing at our version, driving 40 – 50k pageviews to that one story this morning.

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