Monday, October 05, 2009
Google and the newspapers: In for the kill?

Google’s place in the news industry is an ever-evolving and relentlessly fascinating story. CEO Eric Schmidt seems to have set him self a (Google) calendar alert to remind himself to pop up once every few months to comment on the future of news and his employer’s role within it.

A passionate supporter of print, Schmidt continually positions Google as the enabler of a ‘new format’ for news, bringing real-time analysis, powerful search and instant, platform-agnostic information to the fingertips of the masses. This, he says, is going to save news.

But is Schmidt’s ‘moral responsibility’ to protect print journalism based in truth, or is he just a leather-wearing vegetarian, wearing the pelts of dead newspapers to keep him warm?

Google’s recent response to the Newspaper Association of America’s (NAA) request for information on ‘Monetizing Digital Content’ gives us a few clues. Companies including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle responded.

To summarise their thoughts (click to download their response documents in full):

Microsoft: Went for the design and usability angle (which resulted in the nicest-looking response).
Oracle: Only looked at underlying infrastructure of the content management system, stayed clear of everything else.
IBM: Did a lot of research.
Google: Talked about $$$.

Google went in early with revenue, including the promise of a specially designed extension to Google checkout. The rest of its proposal was merely regurgitating info on products it already owns (and could probably fit into a publishing model in minutes).

There were other responses from smaller organisations, but the tech giants’ answers to the fundamental questions facing newspapers seemed to reflect the overall view that content is still king. None of them, aside from Microsoft’s very light attempt, tried to tell the newsmakers how to create the content.

The combination of Google’s expertise in teasing revenue out of existing communities combined with the content and analysis coming from the news industry could be a killer combination. All Google needs to do is leave the writing to the journalists and put its micropayment model into action.

So in his personal address to the NAA, why does Eric Schmidt deem it necessary to explore almost every other topic (freedom of speech, real-time analysis, political innovation, democracy, cloud computing, content choices, usability, mobile design) over the topic of helping the newspapers make money?

There is no doubt that the newspapers are in decline, and need help. At the moment it might not be what Google is doing that is causing that decline, but what it isn’t.