April 12, 2009

Do Not Blame Google, Newspapers Have Not Evolved

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

I have tried to avoid the newspaper crisis, and the AP's comments for as long as possible. Today, a TechCrunch post got me thinking a little more about what is happening. There have been complaints that Google is killing newspapers and all other sorts of silliness. However, the biggest online driver of news traffic is Yahoo!.
According to comScore, Google News attracted 16.2 million unique visitors in the U.S. in February, compared to 42.3 million for Yahoo News and 46.2 million for the sites operated by New York Times Digital.
This means that the whole "Google as middleman is killing newspapers" idea is misguided and Yahoo may be the true culprit. Of course, this is if you believe that an Internet property is to blame. Google as a search entity does not steal traffic from anyone because it is only indexing the content on the Web so that it is easily found. Obviously, this cannot be the reason that people would blame Google.

If Google is not to blame, and you are not buying the Yahoo News idea, then who is to blame for newpapers demise? The newspapers themselves. A long time ago, television came along, but did not kill newspapers. You had a handful of channels that would show some news and some other programming. Then cable came alive, and we got specialized channels for sports, music, movies and more. So far, newspapers had not seemed to be affected, but they had not changed anything. On the TV side, we got more 24-hour news channels, and they did not kill newspapers either. Is the internet killing CNN or MSNBC? No. If anything, they are stronger because they are leveraging the internet.

So, why are newspapers dying? If you followed the TV analogy, you will see that TV has continuously evolved. Newspapers just got bigger, but did not change much. Many newspapers have Web sites, but they are just the online version of the newspaper. Where is the evolution into something better?

The Internet as a whole has been slowly killing newspapers because they are not taking advantage of what people are doing. We are in a fast-paced fast-food culture now, and newspapers are definitely best when slowly consumed. If newspapers were smart they would join forces to become a major internet player. For most newspapers, much of the content is sourced from wire services like the AP and Reuters. So why don't the newspapers use this to their advantage to become specialists. The Wall Street Journal has been a business and finance specialist for as long as it has existed.

However, I do not think that newspapers want to adapt because change is scary. The only thing you hear is that they are looking for ways to find revenue streams online. That is a band-aid that will only help for a short time. Like many companies that go into bankruptcy, they need to reinvent themselves. The problem is that they think they are fine.

Image courtesy of Jacob Whittaker

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.