Does Google Even Need Newspaper Publishers?

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In case you haven't been following, Google has been battling traditional media publishers in a number of countries for years. Publishers want Google to pay to license their content so they can point to it in search results. In Brazil, 90% of the country's newspaper circulation pulled out of Google News entirely. In France, Google faces a potential law which would require it to pay publishers to keep pointing to their content.

We've discussed this situation numerous times, but Frédéric Filloux, GM for digital operations at Les Echos Groupe and based in Paris, has put out an interesting article looking at how traditional media fits into the Google equation, and the data he shares doesn't make it seem like Google would miss these publishers too much.

He looks at Google Trends data to look at the most searched terms in the U.S., France and Germany.

"Except for large dominant American news topics ('Hurricane Sandy' or 'presidential debate'), very few search results bring back contents coming from mainstream media," he points out. "As Google rewards freshness of contents — as well as sharp SEO tactics — 'web native' media and specialized web sites perform much better than their elder 'migrants', that is web versions of traditional media."

He then brings up monetization, and how media contents contribute to Google' bottom line. He looks at the most expensive keywords, which include things like: insurance, loans, mortgage, attorney, credit, lawyer, donate, degree, hosting, claim, conference call, trading, software, recovery, transfer, gas/electricity, classes, rehab, treatment and cord blood.

"By construction, traditional media do not bring money to the classification above," writes Filloux. "In addition, as an insider said to me this week, no one is putting ads against keywords such as 'war in Syria' or against the 3.2 billion results of a 'Hurricane Sandy' query. Indeed, in the curve of ad words value, news slides to the long tail."

He talks about all that Google has done and continues to do to deliver results to users for various types of search itself (as in not having to send users to other sites), such as shopping, flight search, etc., the Knowledge Graph, and concludes that as far as Google is concerned, having newspaper articles is just "small cool stuff".

In other words, Google can get by just fine relying more on "web native" media, if traditional media publications want to pull themselves out of the mix.

This all comes at a time, mind you, when social media is playing an enormous role in breaking news (look simply to Twitter and Instagram's roles in Hurricane Sandy news last week). Google has a whole other issue to worry about on that front.

Losing any source, whether that be a newspaper or real-time access to tweets, does set Google back in its stated mission - to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible, but it's looking less and less likely that Google will ever truly be able to accomplish that mission. Not only would this require cooperation from competitors, Google also faces potential regulation from various governments.

As far as the traditional media, if Brazil is any indication, they may be in no worse shape without Google. The publishers that pulled out don't seem to be missing the Google referrals too much, even if their traffic is a bit lower. On the other hand, that is a country where Google News has been deemed "irrelevant".

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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