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Google: whipping boy for distressed publishers

By / April 10, 2009

Google -- bad or good?

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That's the hot debate in the troubled news industry.

The company whose motto is "do no evil" is being cast by some of the biggest names in publishing as the scourge of newspapers, the Godzilla that is wrecking journalism.

Linking in

Google's spiders scrape news off of thousands of websites every minute. Google then blurbs the articles on its Google News site. These are just blurbs, so a reader of Google News who is interested in an article needs to click on the link, which leads to the article on the originating website. Many more people find articles via Google News (and similar aggregators) than by going to our home page.

As much as it puts news sites in a subordinate position, the arrangement still seems like a win-win.

A story gets exposure by being teased on Google News. But the substance of the story -- the primary sources, the detail, the deathless prose, and the adjacent advertising opportunity -- goes back to the news organization that produced the article in the first place.

And the news organization then has an opportunity to introduce readers to other content on its site.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt argues that this is only helping the news industry by directing readers to their sites. His do-no-evil point, in a speech to the Newspaper Association of America, is that the newspaper industry needs a second act:

"How do you keep engagement?" he asked. "How do you avoid being just mediated with a set of stories that are aggregated with your brand on them."

Aggregation aggravation

Google does not put ads on Google News Pages. But it recently began placing them on Google News search pages (the page you get when you use the search box on the Google News Page).

Could Google News pages be next for ads? Google says no. News companies are not so sure.

And even if Google stays true to its word, the nagging worry of news organizations whose content is indexed on Google News is that for many users the aggregation page is enough of a destination. If you are a skimmer, you get all you need there from reading the extracts of the articles. No need to click through to the original.

Enter the aggrieved parties

As the financial fortunes of news companies have gotten more dire, Google has increasingly been cited as a reason. Rupert Murdoch, MediaNews Group's Dean Singleton, and a host of other publishers have been complaining that Google is using their content but not paying for it.

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