Why Google is Bad for the Newspaper Business

One of the key core competencies of a publication is the process of selecting “all the news thats fit to print”.

No one can read every news story.  Instead of even trying to consume everything, we all have a process we go through for discovery of news, information and topics of interest to us.  We have sources we trust for our news and information. It may be a printed paper or magazine, a website, tv news, facebook or twitter updates, or some combination of everything we have access to.

No matter how we get information there is one certainty, there is a finite number of sources we will use.

When someone selects google news as their destination for news discovery it is probably at the expense of another destination or product who aspires to be a “discovery destination”.  But lets pretend it is just an incremental source.  That for a while at least a consumer will both go to Google News and to the website of their local paper.  What is the branding message the consumer is receiving ?

When that newspaper allows itself to be included in Google News it becomes a de facto endorsement of Google News as an acceptable and probably preferable “discovery destination” . The branding message to the consumer is “I dont need to go to the newspaper homepage. Everything the newspaper has  is referenced  here in Google News. So if there is something of interest to me from the local paper, Google News will send me to their site.  I don’t need to go to both sites any longer. I can just go to Google News.

Thats not good for the publication brand and business. They just lost their position as a trusted source where real people make decisions on what content they think their readers will want to discover – to an algorithm.

But wait it gets worse.

When that consumer goes to Google News, it lists the number of sources. You immediately become one of 2,172 articles.   It is never good for a brand to be considered one of 2,000 plus sources. Ever. That makes you a commodity. All that promotion you did saying how good your reporters are ? On its way to becoming worthless. To the consumer there are 2,000 other people able to do the same thing (even though there really arent 2k sources, thats not what the branding message they get from Google)

And the bad news will keep on coming.

As a newspaper or other information source, you can never discount  the very real possibility that Google starts becoming a content creator. Why couldn’t they hire reporters ? Why couldn’t they give their content priority over all others ? More importantly, why wouldn’t they ?

Never happen you say ? See AOL. See Yahoo. Both are now creating original content in huge quantities. I promise you, someday there will be a bunch of Googlers sitting in a meeting  discussing how they can generate enough revenue and profits to increase earnings per share by a penny.  You can bet someone will pull up a spreadsheet showing the increase in CPMs for original content with the trusted Google News brand on it. It will show that by simply hiring a bunch of reporters to create news, with Google’s traffic and the higher CPMs of original content, we can make a lot of money for our shareholders. You are in denial if you think this will never happen.

It was smart to ride the Google wave of traffic when you were able to sell it all.  Things change. Now you can’t sell all your organic traffic, let alone the traffic you get from  Google.  Now the value equation has shifted.  You are endorsing Google News as a discovery destination making their brand stronger by the day.  Google News’ brand value will increase fast enough on its own. There is no sane reason to allow them to co-opt your brand and use it to accelerate the growth of a business, Google News that will very likely be your biggest online competitor

Update: I want to put a qualifier here because some people think this applies to any or all media companies. It doesn’t. This is meant for media companies that have established brands and brand equity. If you are a startup, you should use Google for everything its worth. It can be very valuable.  If you are trying to create or establish a brand, you should use Google.Google News. If you have no revenue, you should probably rethink your choice of professions and /or business, but Google traffic can only help.

For you, every visitor is a good thing and an opportunity to convert that user and build your brand image.

On the flipside if your company name is one of multiple choices that comes to people’s mind when they need the type of information/news/info you provide, then you need to think through just what impact Google.GoogleNews has on your business today and in the future.

38 thoughts on “Why Google is Bad for the Newspaper Business

  1. Pingback: Why Have So Many Internet People Lost Touch With Reality ? « Don Hecker Lawyer Word

  2. Pingback: Why Google is Bad for the Newspaper Business « Politics and the New Media

  3. While Seth is unquestionably brilliant in many ways, he sometimes veers from the reality of the details that come into making business decisions.

    Comment by sumimasen1 -

  4. Hi Mark,
    I’ve been in the newspaper business 33 years — except the last six months. Yup, I’ve been laid off due to economic downsizing.
    The interesting thing is, in 10 paragraphs of your blog post I saw more forward thinking than in the last 15 years of mid-major newspapering. The bosses just DO NOT get it. They follow blindly and resist change until it is forced down their throats.

    I have a notebook full of meeting quotes from 2001, talking about how my paper will resist the Internet tooth and nail… and another notebook from 2006, with the same maroons talking about how the Internet now has to be our main focus because it’s the future after all.

    Reminds me of 1995, when I suggested that we set up a local bulletin board to take advantage of this growing technology. Perhaps we could type in game notes from the local NBA team so users could get the inside scoop; perhaps we could let them call a number and listen to the complete coach’s interview rather than the quotes we used…. and the response was hacked down and whittled to bits until it became a news-by-fax service that allowed subscribers to receive WIRE stories that didn’t make the paper by fax instead. Yawn? Yawn! Somewhere in the basement is a $125k fax server system that delivered fewer than 5,000 pages before being doomed obsolete.

    The newspaper business is dying because newspaper executives are old-school morons completely unable to look forward. When has a newspaper ever SET a trend? Never. They simply follow, like lemmings off a cliff. Someday, when I land on my feet, I’ll be very thankful the newspaper business crapped me out. My mortgage holder and I both hope that day comes soon.

    Comment by hinty -

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  6. Google may be harmful to the newspaper business but sanity and ethics are deadly.

    Comment by torhershman -

  7. The commenter before me also has plenty of wisdom.
    Mr. Cuban, do you think information is become…well…”cheap” (might not be the right word)?
    Can most people truly tell the difference between an “all star” (the guy that makes god knows how much reporting) and “bad” reporter if you removed the names?

    Comment by beevok -

  8. Hey Mark,

    I’ll try to keep this short by using short clips and responses… but its gonna be hard.

    One of the key core competencies of a publication is the process of selecting “all the news thats fit to print”.

    “Fit” in who’s opinion. Maybe I want to have my own opinion and not be limited to the opinion of the editor of the local paper.

    When someone selects google news as their destination for news discovery it is probably at the expense of another destination or product who aspires to be a “discovery destination”.

    I absolutely agree. And why should I be forced to use an inferior destination for news discover simply because it happens to be geographically located close to me? What if I want a discovery portal that’s focused on Keybords, or hand sanitizer or people named Mark… what makes any one filter better than another? My (the consumer’s) opinion of that filter, period.

    They just lost their position as a trusted source where real people make decisions on what content they think their readers will want to discover – to an algorithm.

    Again with deciding for me what I want to read! How about I get a choice… OR …maybe I do have a choice, I chose to use a filter that does what I want… say Google!?! And who cares if it algorithmic, apparently their algorithm is much better than my local editor’s cognitive choices… or I wouldn’t be using Google in the first place, right?

    You immediately become one of 2,172 articles… That makes you a commodity.

    Well, now who’s fault is it that the local paper can’t take the initiative to do a little more than run the same story 2,171 other sources ran? Besides, even in Dallas, there aren’t that many different sources for a local story. You’re mixing local against national/world here. Lets keep the comparisons on the same level. Oh, and you bet that makes you a commodity. Is Google supposed to protect you from that? No, then who is? That’s right… YOU are.

    All that promotion you did saying how good your reporters are ?

    How about you stop “promoting” your reporters quality and show me. Make them stand out in the crowd of 2,172.

    There is no sane reason to allow them to co-opt your brand and use it to accelerate the growth of a business,

    And as Google has said repeatedly, if you want out it only takes on line in your robots.txt file and you’re out. Don’t complain about it, don’t write stories about how Google is stealing your content, don’t go on tv or before congress fishing for sympathy… just cut them off! It seems as though you are saying the papers can do it on their own, let see it. Block the googlebot and get on with it!

    Even though I strongly disagree with you on this topic, I still love reading your blog and the comments! It just seems strange to me that you’d be so one sided… on the establishment side even… of such a clear cut, new media debate.

    Here’s irony for you. I read THIS post in google reader… an aggregator. If it weren’t for aggregation, there is no way I could keep up with all the good sites, including yours, that I want to read. Maybe the old media sources should look at this debate the same way.


    Comment by jtrigsby -

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  11. “The branding message to the consumer is “I dont need to go to the newspaper homepage. Everything the newspaper has is referenced here in Google News. So if there is something of interest to me from the local paper, Google News will send me to their site. I don’t need to go to both sites any longer. I can just go to Google News.

    There’s a problem in your logic. If you find a site that you like, whether it be for depth of coverage or what not, Google News will not continually send you there. Based on the story of the day, or the story you’re looking for, Google might not give you that site to look at again. If you like it, you’ll have to bookmark it or remember the url.

    Comment by sabbadoo32 -

  12. Mark Cuban, you nailed it! No more to say, its everything there in your article! Thanks for writing it so beautifully

    Comment by Silvia Bassi -

  13. Pingback: Mark Cuban Updates His Stance on Google | Anish E J's Blog

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  15. Didn’t Chris Anderson discuss this extensively in Free?

    Comment by pretnetus -

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  18. Mark said: “You immediately become one of 2,172 articles.”

    Why is that? The answer is … the Associated Press. (Used to include UPI, but those days are long-gone and we are left with, basically, a single source for our news in any medium.)

    So newspapers (and most other media) all over the world are subscribing to ($$$) and publishing AP articles, and Google is aggregating them. (AP isn’t complaining because they’ve been paid, already.)

    As a result, the exact same text appears in thousands of newspapers every day, because newspapers don’t spend a lot of time jazzing up the pool feed … and the newspapers establish their brands by … yup, local news and classifieds.

    Virtually none of those features are included in Google’s aggregators, which makes the papers’ websites the only destination for them.

    The lesson is not that what Google is doing is wrong, it is that the newspapers are failing to distinguish themselves in this new, border-less world. I can read the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times online, and I will be reading identical AP stories in either one.

    What I cannot find in the NYT are stories about life in Hollywood, and similarly, the LAT is missing Times Square coverage.

    So, if a newspaper wants to stand out from the crowd, they should excel at and expand their local reporting and other content exclusive to them. Otherwise they are just another AP aggregator with tiny clusters of unique content in a huge crowd of similar enterprises.

    Comment by stupidscript -

  19. Pingback: Mark Cuban Updates His Stance on Google - News: Everything-e

  20. Creating content seems not enough scalable for a company like Google. Too much regionalization / specialization needed.

    Can media decide to NOT be published on GoogleNews BUT being found on a Google Search? following your arguments i think that would be an interesting option for branded news outlets.

    Comment by Marcel Bernet -

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  22. Also, Google becoming a content company is very unlikely in the near to mid future for two reasons.

    1) It’s against company culture. This matters because Sergei Brin and Larry Page are majority share holders. If they are against content creation, and they are, then Google is against content creation and will be until they are no longer majority share holders (which is going to happen in the future, in which case you can just add Eric Schmidt as a third owner).

    2) They do not make very much off of Google News today. That’s as a purely algorithmic site. Adding employees makes their margins even smaller.

    Comment by mateo2 -

  23. I agree partially mark.
    No i dont think google will ever have reporters. Sorry, I just dont think they will ever go that route.. they go a million other routes.. and im pretty sure they arent down for that.

    That being said.
    You were right on about big brands losing value. There is very little upside to the big brands. The best i could see out of them are maybe a very ‘limited’ number of articles opened up to the web in a non paid format “teasers” if you will. beyond that you are right. They should ALL start online subscription services. If it was done well. I’d subscribe to a couple of them. That being said I haven’t read an actual B/W newspaper for at least 7 years. Unless the observer counts 🙂

    Comment by mverinder -

  24. When news went to television the delivery mechanisms changed. It wasn’t just a regurgitation of newspaper articles. Now you had at-the-scene reporters, new graphical elements, etc.

    But when newspapers moved to the web they made no attempt (even to this day) to do anything more than copy+paste their newspaper articles into html files. What Google News and other aggregators did was find a new delivery mechanism. Not a particularly great one, in my opinion, but at least it’s something.

    Still seems to me that the people who comes along and finds the right way to present news online, and part of that is probably content deals with newspapers, stands to become really really really rich. Whichever company can become the “Hulu of newspapers” is going to make out like bandits… that is if it’s not too late.

    Comment by mateo2 -

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  28. The thing is: we need intermediary filters. There are loads of content providers, so content providers themselves can’t be the ones selecting the news – exactly because they have no interest in selecting other people’s content. That’s also why Google won’t create its own content: we wouldn’t trust it any longer to impartially select and filter stories.
    Readers *need* intermediary filters (Facebook is going to be an even bigger one than Google News, I’ve heard), and because we do, content providers need them, too. Readers simply aren’t willing to commit to a single content provider who selects AND produces content – simply because we have the luxury to consume somebody else’s content as well. That’s a fundamental shift in power from content providers to consumers. In my view, you’re enormously overestimating the leverage traditional news brands still have with their reputation and brand awareness and all that. News is a commodity, attention is the new scarcity – and all content providers have to fight for their piece of the pie. And that starts with the realization that only a 1~5 percent loyal fan base will visit you directly – the rest will use intermediary filters.

    Comment by jaapstronks -

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  30. Google News is to the news media as mp3 was for the music industry and DivX is for the movie industry.

    Most news reports come from agencies such as Reuters and AP that local newspapers syndicate. This model is obsolete because with the internet where you can just hit the news originator.

    A news “incident” happens only once. If a newspaper wants CPMs it needs to provide its unique version rather than just reprinting what the agencies report.

    In my opinion original content is key to newspaper survival in the internet era.

    Comment by vpeters25 -

  31. Enjoyed reading your wrong analysis again.

    1) News is a commodity.

    2) The way people consume information is changing (has changed) and industries who can’t adapt are left behind.

    3) Funny you should mention a potential bias when EVERY news source out there is biased. Google News is the only way to see a view into all of it and get multiple angles (although Google News is still the cummulative bias of what news agencies as a whole find important, but the wisdom of crowds probably applies here).

    4) Your Google envy has grown in recent months when I finally thought you were over it.

    Comment by daveblogger -

  32. Mark,

    Do you want to know a free way to get content from the news publishers? Subscribe to their RSS feeds, you’ll never have to visit their site again. Google is pulling in RSS and displaying it on their site, no different than Google reader.

    Google provides a more comprehensive look at news, just like they provide a more comprehensive look at search. The difference between news providers and regular indexed sites is that news providers already have a platform to reach their audience. Before Google, sites didn’t have that platform. Google acting as a platform will only help the quality news reach the top. It will put more emphasis on local and less emphasis on the sensationalized “media” we get today.

    You are starting to sound more like the old people you once sought to upend… This is where the web is going, its only beginning, and it’ll be 10x more engaging than this once it gets there.

    Comment by steve -

  33. The only way to keep up with multiple news sources is through tools like Google news or RSS feeds. It is naive to think that most people will continue to only check one paper. It is backwards thinking and in the face of progress to expect people to limit themselves that way.

    So what is the solution. You don’t seem to like the idea that Google is bad for newspapers. So what do they do about it? You offer no solutions.

    Customized messages, landing pages, etc. are potential fixes, but probably short-term.

    Here is a parallel: music. Music piracy ran (and is running) rampant but iTunes found a clever fix. Make it EASY and relatively cheap to get good quality. How can the news industry duplicate that? Should they?

    The fact is that things change and newspapers are bloated and outdated. By the time they reach print, their news is old and has been blasted all over the internet, even if by their own sites. By the very nature of the medium, competing with the internet for the reporting of facts is a battle that is already lost.

    There are some interesting possibilities as I see it though.

    1) Local News – Local papers offer a specific resource that is still not really duplicated online. Upcoming events, news from your kid’s school, small stories that matter to small towns, that matter to ME. That content will still be relevant in the morning or next week. What Obama said last night is old news. Anyone living in a small town can tell you the importance and relevance of their local paper.

    2) Follow the lead of cable news and prime time news shows like Dateline or 60 Minutes… Personalities and commentary. There are plenty of places to get the news, the facts, the stats. What about an intelligent, original take on it? Investigative reporting that can only happen by truly talented reporters.

    Digging up facts and spitting them back is easy and that is why there are 2,000 sources and that is why I go to Google. Why it should matter to us and how it relates to the past and the future??? That is worth something. and can not be duplicated.

    Comment by martythornley -

  34. Perhaps the future answer for the papers is more nuanced. Even in this poor economy, consumers have shown that they’re willing to buy music and apps for cheap prices from Apple. At the same time, circulation is dropping at newspapers and magazines. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter all have what the newspapers want: users that frequent their sites on a regular basis. Apple and Steve Jobs know this, hence the iPad and the iBookstore. If I’m the newspapers and magazines, I craft myself into a subcription based iPhone and iPad app, or allow subscriptions to be bought through the Apples, Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world. Let them handle all of the credit card transactions, user accounts, etc and even take a cut of the profit.

    Everyone talks about pay walls and micropayments, but no one wants to shell out $99 a year to see your newspaper, or type in their credit card number everytime. However, a lot of them will pay $5 a month, and another $1 for video content, or a $1 for no ads, etc. Cable companies have been playing this game for years. They’ll also let you tack $1 onto their phone bill or iTunes account – look at the success of text message donations for Haiti.

    The problem is, you can’t drive that kind of traffic on your own. However, you could find a better way to share the revenue created by that traffic and create steady revenue streams through subscriptions.

    Comment by lenz1105 -

  35. Everything here makes sense except why people should care. Google News *IS* a better outlet for national coverage than local newspapers. Google *SHOULD* be creating their own content. Why does every small paper in the country need to regurgitate the same AP story about the president? (Which isn’t cheap to do, by the way). Why not just cover local news and let the national outlets cover the national news. I still go to IndyStar.com to learn about the Colts, even though ESPN is a national outlet. But I do let ESPN tell me about Lebron James. Why? Because the Indy Star has no business telling me about Lebron James.

    The biggest mistake small publishers have made thus far is trying to become bigger and broader to compete with the national outlets. They’ve been SO SLOW at realize this, in fact, that they are now in danger of losing their local coverage to Yahoo Local, Everyblock, and Patch. In the media, it’s adapt or die, and newspapers have chosen death. No amount of walling off your content is going to make people believe that your content is worth something if it’s not.

    Comment by markcaseyonline -

  36. I use at least 3 aggregators every day, they are my main discovery channel for news, Google News, Techmeme, and Yahoo Finance. Usually more, but those 3 every day. They in turn spin me off onto probably 20 to 40 other sites a day.

    someone has to float the interesting stuff to me, I wouldn’t be checking all of those 40 sites everyday to see if they had articles of interest. it is hard to fathom how I would get my news if agregators didnt exist. I know I won’t have to, as they will continue to.

    most news just isn’t worth much, commoditized USA Today blah blah blah, no. insightful journalism is — i’d like to see more people break things down at that fault line. I happily pay subscriptions to hard copies of The Economist, The New Yorker, Wired, Vanity Fair, etc — because they offer unique content that is a great deal. There are niche blogs that also fall into this category, that are ad supported but that I would be willing to make micropayments for. The biggest issue here is friction around online identities and payment systems, I do not want multiple accounts and logins and passwords everywhere, enough with that. The web needs to get unified around an identity system and an easy subscription system that is nearly universally adopted for payments to work. An ad hoc paywall — forgetaboutit. The friction is a bigger deal than the payment.

    And no, I am not really Uwe Blab.

    Comment by uweblab -

  37. Your argument makes complete sense IF major media sources continue to fail to implement tactics to capture Google visitors.

    Currently, major media are allowing themselves to be used by Google, so they deserve to lose the “discovery destination” battle. To win this battle, they need to start using Google right back. You, myself and Matthew Ingram actually debated this topic a couple of months ago (see: http://bit.ly/1gEILX) when I posted the following solution via a question to you:

    Why not continue to bring traffic in from Google but create a specific message for them when they arrive in an attempt to get them to subscribe to a Fox brand?

    For example: “Thanks for visiting Foxnews.com via Google news. Here are the top 5 reasons our audience trusts and returns to Fox daily. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. If any of these appeal to you, stay dialed into Fox by RSS, Twitter, etc.”

    Tell me why this isn’t a better approach to the Google issue than simply shutting it off.

    Your response was that an aggressive landing page strategy would work in the short run but lose in the long run for the very reasons you stated in your post today (destination, brand erosion, etc.) Whether you are right or wrong remains to be seen – but ultimately may not matter because Google has such a powerful grip on how people discover web content. That battle has been lost and I don’t think can be won be merely pulling your content out of Google because people’s habits are set.

    As such, the only solution may very well be to continue allowing Google to drive traffic and then fighting as hard as hell to convince those visitors to stay. To do that, they better have or begin creating damn good reasons for visitors to do so. Specifically, original and great content. Unfortunately, media has brought much of this upon themselves by reporting the same news. They are responsible for commoditizing news, so now they’re responsible for giving visitors compelling reasons to come back to them.

    Otherwise, people will simply continue using Google to scan the headlines of the day – and you can’t blame Google for that.


    Comment by georgetsiolis -

  38. Mark, you’re absolutely right that it “is never good for a brand to be considered one of 2,000 plus sources.” Is this Google’s fault for creating this perception in the eyes of you and me? Absolutely not. Newspapers have become a cheap “news” provider- in no way consistent with what they stood for years ago – legitimate reporting, digging up facts and stories that actually mattered and were relevant to people, etc. not just the ridiculous garbage they call front-page news nowadays.

    If 2,000 other sources have the same exact story then a newspaper needs to find a way to differentiate itself from those other 2,000 sources. If 15 years from now there were 10 pro/semi-pro sports teams with a decent share of the market in the Dallas area, you could do two things:
    -Talk about how great it used to be when during basketball season the Mavs were the big man in town, games sold out, people got excited for the team, etc.
    -Do something about it. Recreate your brand. Realize that the market in 1985 is not the market in 2005 and is not the market in 2025.
    Most newspapers seem to have done too little too late to keep up with technology. That doesn’t mean it is too late for them to reinvent their brand. They should thank Google for opening their own eyes to how they couldn’t be more “middle of the pack” and need to reinvent their brand. And if they don’t, they won’t be anything more than 1 of 2,000 sources.

    Comment by blumberg21 -

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