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Summary:

Here’s a confession I’m a little uneasy making: I still read the newspaper every day. Not an online version, but an old-school, physical newspaper — the New York Times lands on my lawn each morning. I won’t leaf through the pages until the evening, digging into […]

FastFlip_1481356cHere’s a confession I’m a little uneasy making: I still read the newspaper every day. Not an online version, but an old-school, physical newspaper — the New York Times lands on my lawn each morning. I won’t leaf through the pages until the evening, digging into stories I missed during the day’s chaotic rush. But while the same stories have been online for hours, sometimes a day or more, there’s something about the newspaper — its layout, its tried-and-true design, even its faint scent of dried pulp and ink — that makes the print product simpler, and more pleasurable, to devour. The Internet may be killing print papers, but it’s miles from replicating the experience of them.

So much energy is needed to tailor web pages to myriad platforms — rival browsers, news feeds, mobile devices and, soon, tablets — that there is little time left to do the harder work of making the experience of consuming news online an emotionally satisfying one. Which it isn’t yet. And that’s why Google’s Fast Flip announcement this week was so interesting. It’s time, the company was saying, for the web to offer a news interface that rivals magazines and newsprint. Fast Flip isn’t anywhere near to doing that; its gallery of pre-loaded news page images is so crude that initial reviews were pretty harsh. But with Fast Flip, Google tipped its hand to a much broader, ambitious strategy: Google has said for years it doesn’t want to be a media company, and it doesn’t. Google wants to be the media company.

News publishers have been complaining that Google’s intentions are hostile, that it wants to steal their revenue and slowly strangle them to death. That’s not, strictly speaking, true. Google just wants to own them. It’s not a vampire; it simply sees itself as a benevolent dictator — maybe even a philosopher king. Google needs news publishers, otherwise the web will turn into, as Eric Schmidt said, a cesspool. So it plans to stand at the front end of all that news. Newsrooms will take a share of the revenue, but to do so they’ll have to play the role of an outsourced vendor, much in the same way auto parts makers are paid to contribute their goods to what become standalone vehicles.

To be that standalone media company, Google has been taking quiet little babysteps — baby tiptoes, really. It submitted a proposal to the Newspaper Association of America offering an enticing blend of micropayments, subscription billing, ad revenue and reader data (it’s worth reading if only to note how Google ingeniously couches itself as a vendor to publishers, not the other way around). It added a Spotlight section to Google News that highlights stories that meets its definition of “in-depth” journalism.

And now, it’s clear that Google is working to knock down the last, elegant column supporting that print format: its fast, comfortable and intuitive interface.

Google wants a partnership with newsrooms the way Britain wanted a partnership with its colonies. In an era when ink and paper have given way to algorithms and interfaces, Google has such an advantage it’s not even a fair fight. Forget what Google says about its vision of organizing all the world’s information – a mandate broad enough to justify nearly any campaign – the company faces a problem no matter how powerful it gets: It needs to keep growing revenue.

And news publishers? Well, it’s good and bad. The good is, they’ll always have a home in the Google Empire. The bad is, they’ll have to share more of their online revenue with Google. And they’ll have to kiss their brands good-bye.

  1. great article! i couldn’t agree more, and youtube was the first obvious step toward content management (i mean recent youtube/hollywood sales negotiations, not the version 1 of the site)…it’s semantics – give google a toehold in *any* digital asset and they will simply describe it as information, and so all fits with their grand goal of organizing the world’s information…this is no different with their poking into healthcare records management, collaborative applications, messaging, et al – if it can move through a data stream in any capacity, then it is information, and arguably the same goes for voice moving packets (google will be both media company and telecom player within only a few years)

    what really just frightens me is the selected content on the news site, coupled with the suggested reading on the blogs/reader site…i believe that their corporate vision is more like, “let’s all be individuals – now, everybody, repeat after me, “let’s all be individuals!””

  2. Is Google the next Media Company | TechWag Sunday, September 20, 2009

    [...] Kevin Kelleher over at GigaOm has an interesting story about how Google does not want to become a media company, they want to be the media company that we all interact with. While the ambition is not supported, there are enough backend systems and support systems within the Googleplex to actually make something of Kevin’s idea. Kevin states on GigaOm So much energy is needed to tailor web pages to myriad platforms — rival browsers, news feeds, mobile devices and, soon, tablets — that there is little time left to do the harder work of making the experience of consuming news online an emotionally satisfying one. Which it isn’t yet. And that’s why Google’s Fast Flip announcement this week was so interesting. It’s time, the company was saying, for the web to offer a news interface that rivals magazines and newsprint. Fast Flip isn’t anywhere near to doing that; its gallery of pre-loaded news page images is so crude that initial reviews were pretty harsh. But with Fast Flip, Google tipped its hand to a much broader, ambitious strategy: Google has said for years it doesn’t want to be a media company, and it doesn’t. Google wants to be the media company. Source: GigaOm [...]

  3. Online news is light years better than newspaper news for the simple fact it is current events and it’s FREE! With Google News, you get thousands of papers instantly thrust before you, not only that, you can customize exactly what word phrase you want as your news. With the advent of online news, todays newspaper feels like it belongs in the archives, in fact it is pretty much yesterdays news. A newspaper can no longer be considered true current events. Also you cannot update news in a newspaper until the next day. In online news, I’ve sometimes seen news articles updated 3 or 4 times throughout the day. Online news, most particular Google News is objective and not slanted by one point of view from one paper. There are many points of views and what’s put at top of the fold is not chosen by a sujective editor but an objective algorithm which has no political agenda.

  4. Online news is light years better than newspaper news for the simple fact it is current events and it’s FREE! With Google News, you get thousands of papers instantly thrust before you, not only that, you can customize exactly what word phrase you want as your news. With the advent of online news, todays newspaper feels like it belongs in the archives, in fact it is pretty much yesterdays news. A newspaper can no longer be considered true current events. Also you cannot update news in a newspaper until the next day. In online news, I’ve sometimes seen news articles updated 3 or 4 times throughout the day. Online news, most particular Google News is objective and not slanted by one point of view from one paper. There are many points of views from thousands of news outlets and what’s put at top of the fold is not chosen by a subjective editor but an objective algorithm which has no political agenda.

  5. Oh how could you? How could you wait till the end of the day to read the newspaper. If I don’t read my ‘Times of India’ first thing in the morning, the coffee is tasteless, my food doesn’t digest and I have to be admitted in deaddiction camps..

    1. Anand,

      I know! How could I? I have no excuse…

      Except that as a news junkie, I fill up on online news – that free and fast firehose (as jojo points out) – all day long, yet there is simply no adequate filter out there – realtime or no – to separate the news from the cesspool. Or at best I’ll have just enough time to focus on good reporting about tech and business, but not sports or international news. So at the end of the day, the paper is still useful. I’ll pick it up and say, how did I miss that story about China’s economy – and that news about Tim Lincecum – in the day’s rush?

      The bulk of online news – by which I mean, the usual flurry facts plus instant conjecture, outrage and awe plus kneejerk analysis which is fascinating until it isn’t – is like a drug-induced stream of consciousness. But my point here is not to knock online news (which I’ve been involved with for 15 years) but to point out that the filters it’s created still haven’t surpassed what a well-run newspaper achieves every day (or evening, as it may be). It will surpass it, it just hasn’t yet.

      I think of it as an acid test for the Web’s interface. One fine evening, I’ll pick up the paper and say, “well, this is no good.” And then I’ll go online – most likely to news.google.com.

  6. Amazing article! Google does need to grow revenue, especially in these economic times. But I think that this latest move is pushing it a little, since media houses like to establish their branding.

  7. Alain Le Falher Monday, September 21, 2009

    The Empire Strikes Back

  8. Wasn’t “becoming a media company” Yahoo’s strategy when Terry Semel headed it?

  9. video streaming Monday, September 21, 2009

    OK. Google wants to be The Media company. But Google doesn’t want to pay any countain. And journalists need to be paid.

  10. Is Google the Next Media Company? | CloudAve Monday, September 21, 2009

    [...] Kevin Kelleher over at GigaOm has an interesting story about how Google does not want to become a media company, they want to be the media company that we all interact with. While the ambition is not supported, there are enough backend systems and support systems within the Googleplex to actually make something of Kevin’s idea. Kevin states on GigaOm So much energy is needed to tailor web pages to myriad platforms — rival browsers, news feeds, mobile devices and, soon, tablets — that there is little time left to do the harder work of making the experience of consuming news online an emotionally satisfying one. Which it isn’t yet. And that’s why Google’s Fast Flip announcement this week was so interesting. It’s time, the company was saying, for the web to offer a news interface that rivals magazines and newsprint. Fast Flip isn’t anywhere near to doing that; its gallery of pre-loaded news page images is so crude that initial reviews were pretty harsh. But with Fast Flip, Google tipped its hand to a much broader, ambitious strategy: Google has said for years it doesn’t want to be a media company, and it doesn’t. Google wants to be the media company. Source: GigaOm [...]

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