Ars technica has reported that Google news will be accepting comments from users. This is sure to fire up the already-simmering relationship between the big online publishers and the search engine behemoth.
Online publishers have a love and hate relationship with Google. The love part is that Google gives publishers masses of traffic. At Mail & Guardian Online, Google is by far our biggest referrer, sometimes contributing more than 35% of the site’s total traffic. So where’s the hate part?
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.
Google has been cautious about attaching Adsense to Google news as that would really raise the ire of news publishers who would accuse Google profiting off their content… well the blurbs of their content. But the fact that Google News is now adding comments to the news of their aggregated offering site is a direct stab at online publishers, especially those who solicit comments from their readers on those very same stories.
My view, as a commercial online publisher, is that I’m not ecstatic about the decision as it does erode our news offering. However I can see where Google is coming from and the massive benefit in traffic our site gets from Google far outweighs these negative issues. Bigger publishers, such as the NY Times.com, who are less reliant on Google however may feel differently.
In a Web 2.0 world (Shpitooey!) I think we should be more collaborative than competitive. From that point of view, as long as there is an upside for our site, I’m happy Google takes its pound of flesh.