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Newspapers: We couldn’t think up Google, so Google owes us money (WTF?)

February 3, 2010

From GigaOM (via @lostremote):

[Mark] Cuban reportedly dared newspapers to pull their papers out of Google’s search index. “Show some balls,” he said. “If you turn your neck to a vampire, they are [going to] bite. But at some point the vampires run out of people’s blood to suck.”

Cuban’s pitch …of course, ignore[s] the fact that search-driven traffic is growing at most newspapers (in contrast to direct traffic and print circulation), and that if they don’t find a way to appeal to and monetize those readers then they will be catering to an ever-shrinking number.

Cuban’s “vampires” comment is misinformed, as GigaOM points out. But the “balls” comment is something I can actually get on board with. We’ve been listening to newspaper employees whine about Google for years now and yet, the process for removing one’s site from Google search is insanely simple. Every news site could disappear from Google in the next five minutes, if they wanted to.

The fact is, newspaper executives know that the bulk of their traffic comes from Google. So they’re not actually telling Google stop stealing our content! they’re asking that Google keep giving them free traffic, but also share some of the profit (that rightfully belongs to Google). Essentially, newspapers are admitting that they weren’t clever enough to come up with Google and then arguing that because of that, Google owes them money.

This is ri-goddamn-diculous.

Newspapers are playing the part of the crazy girlfriend who gets jealous every time you strike up a conversation with another woman and then complains that you’re socially withdrawn around her friends. I wonder if somewhere down the line, Google will just get tired of dealing with the newspaper industry and do the breaking up for them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Reporter Josh Hicks permalink
    February 3, 2010 1:31 pm

    Couldn’t agree more that newspapers need to monetize readership.

    But newspapers needing to “attract” readers? We’re already there, big time.

    RT @lavrusik: Newspaper Sites Attracted 37% Of All Internet Users:

    I appreciate all the focus new-media gurus have put on attracting readers. That’s what got us here and will keep us viable moving forward.

    But I think it’s time we shift the emphasis toward innovative ways of monetizing the industry so our best news outlets, old and new, don’t crumble. Whoever pulls that off is the next Bill Gates, and the savior of all new-media and written-word journalists who wish to remain employed.

  2. February 3, 2010 1:58 pm

    @Josh – You misunderstand—the reason newspapers are “already there” is because of search traffic from sites like Google. Check your link; the numbers are impressive, but they only tell half the story (the other half: of the 37 percent, what percentage came to news sites from search engines?). People aren’t visiting news sites by typing in “;” they’re Googling topics and keywords and finding newspaper content. Cut off the search engines and you lose all that traffic (in which case your 37 percent figure drops considerably).

    Finding a way to monetize news content is important—indeed, the future of the industry may hinge on it—but it’s important to understand that search engine optimization and monetized content go hand-in-hand. If you clicked through to my GigaOM link, you would have read this after the quote that I pulled:

    “What good is having a store if no one knows that it exists? As Google continually points out, it drives billions of page views to media sites — surely some of those readers might want to return, if they were appealed to in the right way. Perhaps they might even pay for something now and then.”

  3. Reporter Josh Hicks permalink
    February 4, 2010 12:08 pm

    Perhaps my comments were a bit out of place for a post on Google. I don’t disagree with you about search engines. Not in the least.

    I was addressing the quote you included about finding a way to attract and monetize readers. As though we haven’t found a way to attract readers yet.

    There’s so much thought that goes into attracting readers with interactive media, video, etc. I, for one, love using these tools, and I think they’ve enhanced our trade. But we need to shift the focus toward monetizing web sites, or it will be all for naught. Newspapers attracted 37 percent of all internet users. It’s not like we’re struggling to get eyes on the sites, so I think the innovators out there can do more good now by thinking about money.

  4. February 4, 2010 12:34 pm

    That is the eleventy billion dollar question, isn’t it—How do we make money with news content? We know what we’re doing now isn’t enough, but I wonder what “it” is in that statement. Conventional wisdom says that online ads don’t make as much money as print ads…but what news organization can you point me to that invests as much money in selling its Web site as it does in selling its print edition? Online ads can fund news operations, at least at the micro level.

    In print, a lot of companies sell subscriptions, so some people think, “Hey, we ought to charge for online subscriptions, too.” But that’s a faulty argument when you consider (a) that you’ll kill off all your traffic with a paywall and (b) that print subscriptions never really made that much money to begin with.

    What we’re likely looking at—at least near-future-wise—is some kind of multi-pronged approach, or a “freemium” model, like what The New York Times sort of appears to be planning (i.e. you get X article views per month for free and then a paywall goes up).

    I agree that innovators should be thinking about how to monetize news, but I also think those innovators need to be in newsrooms, as well as in front offices (and also, the two should cross-pollinate). Nothing, except for a lack of imagination, was stopping news companies from inventing Craigslist/Google/etc.

    One last thing: I found something of an answer to my previously rhetorical question, “of the 37 percent [of Internet users who access news], what percentage came to news sites from search engines?”

  5. Reporter Josh Hicks permalink
    February 4, 2010 1:20 pm

    I like the freemium idea. I think there has to be a charge to some extent, but I agree that a paywall only works for the WSJs out there.

    On a related future-of-journalism note, I like the idea of posting a massive amount of well-organized news content online and then running best-of print editions 1-3 times per week.

    The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press are doing this now. I think they’re 3x/week.

    I can’t stress enough, though, how important I think it is to keep content well-organized and easily navigable. Nothing turns me away faster than an overloaded web page that doesn’t read intuitively. And nothing keeps me glued like a nice, professional-looking site. Call me a sucker.

    By the way, nice work with that web site you guys at Sound Pub new media are putting together for The Scene.

  6. February 4, 2010 1:36 pm

    I think you’re totally right on the design front; here are two other things I think newspaper sites could do better to keep people logged on/coming back:

    1. Links: Links out build Web traffic; links to yourself build SEO strength and encourage serendipitous browsing (think Wikipedia).
    2. Comments: Reporters need to be more active in the comment boards for their stories. Look at this exchange between you and me—how many times in the last two days have you navigated back to this page? Now extrapolate that to a site that actually gets respectable traffic and multiply you and me by about (conservatively) a dozen people.

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