Why we love and hate Google

net savvy

Why we love and hate Google
Local online publishers need to keep an eye on Google
Publishers love and hate the world’s biggest search engine. Google is getting bigger and scarier everyday, or as Wired magazine puts it, going from “guerrilla startup to 800-pound gorilla”.
Now that Google appears to be making a beeline for this continent, local publishers need to keep an eye on the search monster’s movements. Google stunned the country by quietly launching google.co.za. It has now just launched Google News South Africa.
Google, whose mission it is to organise the world’s information, is a big source of traffic for online publishers. But they also complain that search engines like Google have gorged themselves on their content, which it takes for free. In fact, they say search engines owe their very existence to this content – and then profit with it at publishers’ expense.
World Association of Newspapers President Gavin O’Reilly has slammed what he calls this “Napsterisation” of content — pointing to the fight between the music download service and the record industry. He went on an all-out offensive, saying in interviews that we’re dealing with “basic theft” and “kleptomania” here. Strong stuff.
On the back of his words a task force of global and European publishers’ groups have been organising themselves to “examine the options open to publishers to assert their rights to recognition and recompense, and to ultimately improve the relationships between content creators/producers and news aggregators and search engines”.
The group will examine whether new standards and policies can be drafted to formalise the commercial relationship between publishers and search engines and content aggregators. The group will also look at “collective action” at a national or international level, together with questions regarding copyright and brand infringement.
As a publisher, I have my own problems with Google, but is O’Reilly living in the dark ages? And does he want to take us back there?
Google has done more than any company to organise and enliven the wild, wild web, enabling us to untangle the vast information in it. Without Google and many other search engines the web would not be the rich, accessible place it is today.
Google’s relationship with publishers is symbiotic, rather than parasitic. The web needs Google; publishers need Google.
How else can Google play search engine and refer readers to publisher sites if it cannot use a reference to an article, via a headline or a blurb? Is O’Reilly proposing that Google pay for the honour of sending readers to our respective websites?
For most publishers, Google is their biggest referrer, generating big chunks of traffic. Google is also a source of advertising revenue for publishers via the search engine’s contextual search advertising and paid search listings.
But there is a downside. Google may be a supplier of traffic and advertising, but the company is paradoxically competing with publishers for traffic and advertising.
By creating Google News — a collection of headlines, blurbs and links from the world’s top news sites — the search engine is effectively competing with the homepages of news publishers. Google News systematically bypasses homepages by deep linking directly to news articles. A homepage is important real estate for a publisher – it determines where a user browses, sets the news agenda and is a prime area for advertising.
Then there is Google’s highly-successful advertising model. Publishers add code to their pages, allowing Google to scan for relevant keywords and display highly-targeted adverts. Revenues are relatively small for local publishers, but useful because it comes without any cost of sale.
Google notoriously keeps the commission it earns a secret from most publishers and basically holds the power in the relationship. The search engine recently added an “advertise on this site” link below its adverts, in direct competition to publishers’ own sales efforts.
We are losing out here. Google is coming in between the relationships that publishers hold with their advertisers and is not only grabbing a slice of the pie, but controlling the size of the slices.
It is around these issues publishers should rally to push for more equitable treatment.
Matthew Buckland is publisher of the Mail & Guardian Online @ www.mg.co.za

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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