Google helps newspapers, period.

As the newspaper industry has grown weaker and weaker, there has been a steady stream of articles and blog posts blaming Google for some or all of this decline. I’m not going to link to them all, because there are simply too many, and they are easy enough to find. The standard allegation is that the search engine, and other similar engines such as Yahoo and MSN, hijack readers by aggregating content, and then monetize those eyeballs by posting ads near the content. Newspapers get traffic, but Google critics argue that this traffic is essentially worthless — or at least can’t make up for the value that Google has siphoned off.

One of the most recent articles to take this tack appeared in the Guardian and quoted Sly Bailey, the chief executive office of newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror. Among other things, Ms. Bailey said that:

“By creating gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions, by performing well on search engines like Google, we have eroded the value of news. News has become ubiquitous. Completely commoditised. Without value to anyone.”

This argument is almost too absurd to be taken seriously. In a nutshell, Ms. Bailey is claiming that by expanding their readership and making it easier for people to find their content, newspapers have shot themselves in the foot, and should do their best to avoid being found by new readers. It’s particularly ironic that the Mirror CEO is making these comments in a story in The Guardian, which has built up an impressive readership outside the UK thanks to its excellent content.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

9 thoughts on “Google helps newspapers, period.

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  3. I her pov is about the fact that expanded readership without concern for revenue went too far too fast. I would imagine that the net incremental readership for the Guardian has translated into very few incremental $ in revenue (or, at a minimum, the growth in revenue lags the % growth in readership by a wide margin). If the majority of valuable content your paper produces is local (i'll define that as broad as including a local perspective on a global issue) and the majority of your advertisers are interested in that local population (ie. not global brands) then I would agree that media companies have spent far too much time on sexy topics like SEO instead of working on the straightforward problem of producing unique content for a local population that can find it very nicely without the help of Google. Not arguing that she is completely right, but there is a valuable point being made about having a more balanced view on what really matters to the business model of a newspaper beyond the 3-5 globally relevant brands.

    • Thanks for the comment, Keith. I don't know what The Guardian's numbers look like, but you could well be right — and as I said in a comment at the Nieman site, it's true that a larger readership does not always translate into a more valuable readership, particularly if local concerns are your bread-and-butter.

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  5. I agree, there is a difference between large readership and valuable readership. It helps to identify which matters, to have a wide readership, or a smaller number who are more valuable? Thanks!

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