By Sudarsha Rambaran, Value Art+Communication Fellow, Mainz
(This blog post is part of a new Value iBook “The Real Value of Print” which will be available soon)
• Beyond craziness? — The Woeful Tale of the Newspaper and its War with the Internet
• Publishers’ strange behavior (since decades): they ignore the needs of their customers
• The biggest enemy of print & publishing are newspaper publishers and their partners in the traditional media business
Five years ago, in an interview with Horizont, media expert and author of “What would Google do?” Jeff Jarvis made some visionary comments about the future of the newspaper industry. He stated that society is being massively restructured because of the internet, however, Google is not the instigator of this process as many believe, but rather a result of it. These days, if you cannot be searched on the net, you cannot be found. The mass market for newspapers may be dead, but there is still a niche for them in the world. The news itself must change: it has to be tailored to target audiences, which is why regional newspapers can benefit so much from Google. Google itself is currently changing their whole marketing approach. They are concentrating on making the advertising relevant to local markets by personalizing the stories (nice example here). They no longer want to mass produce messages that work on a global level, and it’s working brilliantly!
The advantages of the online world for newspapers are many; low costs, cheap distribution, fast updates, and discussions with the readers. There was the nice example with the New York Times. They took down the paywall on their site and their internet traffic rose by 40%, which started a snowball effect: they earned more money from advertisements, and they moved up the list on the Google search page, which led to even more readers.
Currently, the German regional newspapers are rebelling against Google, because they believe it doesn’t help their sites, especially on the Google News side. One prominent example of this is the “Braunschweiger Zeitung”, which has abandoned the Google News feature. Their reasoning for this, in my opinion, made little sense: they wanted to show their confidence and independence from Google. They also want Google News to suffer for it; if many regional newspapers leave it, Google will have a problem. Yet in reality it would be their problem if they can’t be found! The whole story reminded me of this:
On the other hand, the Zeitung went about this in a clever way, as they started a massive marketing campaign in order to raise awareness and advertise the newspaper. However, They could have done the marketing campaign without leaving Google, and Google would only have supported it! The marketing campaign did increase the visits to their website by 27%, though, but I still don’t see how leaving Google helped with this.
So the big question we asked ourselves here was: why blame Google for the decline of the newspaper industry when all it’s doing is helping? (And why not Twitter, which would have made far more sense?). The facts:
- Google is a great source of promotion. We send online news publishers a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion extra visits from our other services, such as Web Search and iGoogle. That is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue—for free.
- In terms of copyright, another bone of contention, we only show a headline and a couple of lines from each story. If readers want to read on they have to click through to the newspaper’s Web site. (The exception are stories we host through a licensing agreement with news services.) And if they wish, publishers can remove their content from our search index, or from Google News.
- The claim that we’re making big profits on the back of newspapers also misrepresents the reality. In search, we make our money primarily from advertisements for products. Someone types in digital camera and gets ads for digital cameras. A typical news search—for Afghanistan, say—may generate few if any ads. The revenue generated from the ads shown alongside news search queries is a tiny fraction of our search revenue.
It all speaks for itself, really. Readers also don’t necessarily want to read newspapers solely on digital platforms, as many in the newspaper industry fear. The actual percentage of people who do exclusively want digital content is at 10-12%.
“News is not one-size-fits-all” – Jeff Jarvis
The newspapers do not just have a problem with the Internet, they also have a content problem. They need to change their approach by tailoring news to target audiences rather than trying to reach everyone, which is why regional newspapers, like the Braunschweiger Zeitung are so important today. Dr. Andreas Vogel put it quite nicely in a study:
“Bloß die Verlage glauben, [dass sie] mit einem Einheitsprodukt alle Leser [gewinnen können]”
Roughly translated, this means that only the newspapers themselves believe that they can reach all types of readers by creating one mass product.
Dr. Vogel believes that one possible solution to this content problem is to differentiate the product by offering different versions of it. Not too many, however; perhaps three or four intelligently created versions, which can be decided on by polling the readers and asking them about their interests. These versions might be smaller/thinner than the original edition, and cheaper. This is a great idea, as it is more personal, which is so important these days, and it views the buyer as a reader/consumer. Many newspapers seem to ignore this; fact is, what might be academically recognized as quality journalism may not be something the reader can cohere. Newspapers need to connect to their readers, or at least write pieces that their readers can relate to.
Now back to the evil that is Google, according to publishing companies. A German organization, VG Media, own by a number of media companies like Axel Springer SE, sued Google for copyright reasons; they claimed that Google was stealing from them by showing short snippets of their articles on the search page. The result was a law, called the Leistungsschutzrecht, which forbids Google from showing these snippets (it is rather vaguely written, though). The result of all of this ridiculousness was this: October 1st, 2014, Google announced that it would no longer show the snippets, instead just the name of the article and maybe the author. They don’t even show the paper’s logo on the search page. And the papers are crying wolf at Google again. At the end of the day, what really happened is that the newspapers blamed Google for the problems they were having (and still are). They were simply afraid that Google was taking business away from them and thus making more money. Whereas in reality, Google only promoted and linked to their content, thus delivering readers to them on a silver platter! The PR brochure promoting this stated that “If someone wants to use our content, they have to ask.” It’s pretty easy translate this into what they really meant, and German blogger Stefan Niggemeier did so flawlessly: “Google must use it and pay”. Now Google isn’t using it or paying, and they’re left crying in the corner because they got what they wanted; Google doesn’t showcase their content anymore. And they will lose clicks.