I noticed a post on April 23rd on EditorsWebBlog.org about the struggle that newspaper websites are going through right now over whether or not to continue giving their content to Google for free. The author, Maria Conde, cites the internet consultant Arnon Mishkin, who is a major proponent of payed content, and who has been encouraging news websites to remove their content from Google. He argues that a large portion of Internet traffic doesn’t come from Google, but rather from regular, faithful visitors who respond to a news organization’s strong brand recognition.
However, Maria Conde notes that despite what Mr. Mishkin argues for, his own research shows that Google is still responsible for a significant portion of news websites’ traffic. In fact, according to Mishkin’s report as much as fifty percent of traffic to news websites comes from topic searches on Google. In her post, Maria Conde concludes that most news websites still need Google to generate traffic, unless they already have a deeply entrenched brand and a significant crowd of regular visitors.
I couldn’t agree more! Sure, a news website is a community (although it happens to be an online community) and should and will allow it to keep up a significant flow of traffic on its own using a strong brand. In short, Mishkin is right that branding works. But try suggesting to a “new media” consultant that you’d like to build your brand without using Google. He or she would look at you as if you had two heads, or perhaps no head at all!
Google is a central player in new media, meaning that any newspaper that wants to make the transition into this uncharted territory safely must adapt to Google’s new role in the industry. Otherwise, newspapers will go the same route as the music industry, which took a huge hit by denying the incontrovertible changes from internet technology. Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, describes how the music industry condemned itself early on to a slow and painful death by refusing to let go of business models rooted in the past. According to Godin, the music industry ignored two fundamental rules:
1. Don’t base your business predictions on market conditions that are better than the status quo. Chances are that they will never arrive. (Does this ring a bell newspaper guys?)
2. Don’t base your predictions on your past performance. If you’ve made money in the past, you did so under the market conditions of the past, which may have been categorically different from the market conditions of today.
The newspaper industry is doing the same thing today. They are repeatedly breaking these two rules. Instead of inventing new models that will work in today’s market, they are crossing their fingers and hoping that business will improve some time in the future. They are assuming that they can use models that worked twenty years ago and succeed in today’s market. This is an unfortunate repetition of what has already happened in the music industry, one that is sad and painful to watch. People haven’t been paying for news and don’t want to start paying for news unless they are given some sort of extra value. Trying to charge people for something that they are used to getting for free is simply not a viable business model.
Think outside the newsstand,