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.

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