Debate raged at the Frontline Club last night as Google and news publishers came head-to-head for a panel discussion on the search engine and its impact on the industry.
The very title of the event “Google: Friend or foe of newspaper publishers”, part of the club’s monthly On the Media discussion series in association with the BBC College of Journalism, set the topic of early debate, as Peter Barron, former Newsnight editor and now head of PR for Google UK, sought to banish the idea of the company as an ‘enemy’. “Google is unequivocally a friend of the newspaper publishers. Our aim is to work with them,” he said.
Challenged about the ethics of “taking stories for nothing” through the Google News platform, he added that the service followed the free structure of online news.
We absolutely we do not steal content. News organisations put their content on the web for free everyday by their own free will and Google helps people find that content. We send clicks to the pages of news websites. We send a billion clicks a month to news websites globally. Once there, those clicks are a business opportunity for the businesses involved.
A business which he claims generates revenues of £5 billion worldwide. But the value of a browser who clicks through from Google is minimal, Matt Kelly, digital content director for Mirror Group Newspapers argued. In fact, he said, he’d rather not have them at all.
We need to worry a bit less about search engines and worry a bit more about our readers. We weren’t that impressed with the value of audience we got via search engines. They came across it via Google and buzzed off again, that’s Google’s audience. It’s not our audience. We can’t successfully leverage a disconnected audience.
He added that many news organisations moving online were “blinded” by the reach the internet and sites like Google enabled them to have.
I think they confused reach with audience, they confused numbers with engagement. It was a very alluring thing (…) So we pumped the market full of inventory and there was too much inventory for advertisers to supply. There’s not enough advertising in the world to fill all of the content that newspapers put out online. So what happens is the rate collapses. So suddenly this reach came back and bit the newspaper industry on the arse. So in all this great reach, the rate of revenue coming back from it is in terminal decline. What we would sell 4 or 5 years ago for £8 cpm now we’ll sell it for 80p cpm. This is not a sustainable business model. This is a product of the erosion of engagement that Google brought to news content.
Kelly later added that he would rather get one click-through from Twitter than 100 from Google, where someone has said “check this out” and recommended it. “I’m not interested in people who stumble and go, would rather not have them at all,” he said.
Earlier in his introduction, fellow panel member Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at the London Business School, had agreed that Google was “a good thing for consumers (…) Good thing for advertisers. Bad thing for media companies.”
He said the revenue model for Google focused on making money from advertising and not re-investing much of it into content. Without Google, he added, the world would be a better place for news organisations.
Who’s going to pay for the content? Google isn’t going to and why should they? Google helps people find content, however if you imagine a world in which Google didn’t exist and nothing else like it, that world would be better for news organisations (…) The amount of revenue per reader generated online is much less than what can be generated by a print reader.
Peter Barron responded to say that the problems for news organisations have been caused by the internet as a whole and that too often people “transpose” the internet and Google.
The internet changed the news pattern forever. Thats what has caused huge problems for the news industry. People often transpose the internet and Google. The newspaper industry has faced a huge disruption because of the internet and woke up to it a little bit late.
Wired and Press Gazette MediaMoney columnist Peter Kirwan, who was also on the panel, added that many online news publishers simply have their priorities “skewed”. If organisations could cut out the “astronomical” costs of printing, they could begin to think about becoming digital only, he added.
The rhetoric that surrounds the idea of the news media exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, in other words (…) the available CPMs (cost per thousand) available on the internet are so much lower than in print – well yes they are – but the cost of putting out newspapers is also astronomically high (…) Strip that out and those digital diamonds don’t look so small (…) News organisations who are currently print dominated could start to think about becoming digital only and I think the rhetoric is now getting slightly tired of exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, we need to move on from that a little bit because I think the possibility of a digital only existence is starting to open up.
Looking forward, audience members asked about the future of paywalls and whether news publishers would ever consider building a shared wall. This prompted another panel member, paidContent’s Robert Andrews to ask Barron if Google could say anything on rumours the company was developing a ‘Newspass’ micro-payments system, met with a “no comment” from Barron.
Kelly added that it was up to newspapers to map their own future, but for the Mirror Group, it was about ensuring an engaged audience, rather than being obsessed with traffic from “transient visitors”, which he called this “a sickness that has pervaded the industry”.
Lots of people used our content but didn’t care about it. We’re trying to get to position B, its free and they care about it but then one day we might get to position C which is that they care about it so much they might be willing to pay for it. I wish [the Times] had gone to position B first and see if they could have engaged the audience and care a bit less about SEO.
Journalism.co.uk’s podcast from the event can be found here. See video coverage of the event below:
“Evergreen topic pages” – it’s a phrase which confused many when first used on the Online Journalism Review site.
Aiming to clarify the term and show how such pages will contribute revenue, Robert Niles has posted an explanation on the site.
The page does focus on a single theme. But neither a niche website nor a topic index on a general news website necessarily serves the function of an evergreen topic page. A optimized evergreen topic page ought to focus on a single element within a theme – not just sports, for example, but on soccer officiating in the World Cup.
I understand why this might be a tough concept for some news veterans. After all, what I’m asking you to create is in several ways the opposite of what we do on a daily basis writing for newspapers or broadcast reports. This is a different product for a news organization, but one much closely aligned with its core mission than fake front pages or coupon deals.
He explained that such pages are an aside to daily news updates, but can be used to supplement such coverage throughout time, with links to ‘evergreen’ topic pages which provide background information. The pages continue to fulfil online searches and provide a long-term additional income from advertising with limited maintenance.
I stumbled onto the value of evergreen content pages when I wrote my “statistics every writer should know” tutorial in 1996. I added AdSense ads to that site in 2003 and continue to earn several hundred dollars a month from those pages today.
Data from the Newspaper Marketing Agency, turned into an interactive graphic by paidContent:UK, suggests that the Drudge Report and BBC News are two of the top traffic drivers to UK commercial newspaper websites.
The BBC News site referred 1,992,425 unique users to the papers’ websites in April, according to the figures.
Google dominates the search referrals list, directing 39,694,597 unique users to the sites. While Twitter is yet to make the top 10 of sites referring traffic to newspapers, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg are all up there.
It’s still early days, but the conclusion so far seems to be this: since it forced users to register in order to view its content, the Times has lost market share. However, this decline has clearly not been catastrophic and none of the paper’s rivals has particularly benefitted. Yet. The real test will come when people actually have to pay rather than simply register to view the Times’ content.
NYTimes.com was the most visited newspaper site in the US last month, according to statistics released by comScore.
The New York Times website had more than 32 million visitors and 719 million page views in May, with the average visitor to the site viewing 22 pages of content.
A short way behind was Tribune Newspapers, with 24.8 million visitors.
Jeff Hackett, comScore senior vice president, says the numbers prove online news is the future.
“The good news for publishers is that even as print circulation declines, Americans are actually consuming as much news as ever – it’s just being consumed across more media,” he said. “The internet has become an essential channel in the way the majority of Americans consume news content today with nearly three out of five internet users reading newspapers online each month.”
Late Night Marketing discusses how Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.no lost more than 5,000 natural “inlinks” (links to its website from external sites and blogs) to its website by disabling a feature from blog search engine Twingly on its website:
The first thing here is that Dagbladet.no now loses a lot of blog traffic, but this is not the most important thing, because the traffic from blogs is not enormous compared to the traffic a newspaper can gain from good rankings on search engines.
What do you think that Google will think of your site if you suddenly have approximately 5,000 fewer incoming links per month?
The strategy, for MinnPost, is a financial as much as an editorial one: It’s about concentrating impact, but also about monetising that impact. The outlet’s ultimate goal in developing a core readership, Kramer said, is to “convert that community into enough money to sustain the journalism”.
Fast forward to September and the story is the same as earlier in the year – Guardian 1st, Telegraph 2nd and Mail 3rd. So what changed from June to September? To find out, I’ve compared the ABCe figures for UK and foreign visitors in June and September. The difference between the Guardian’s performance and that of the Telegraph and Mail is revealing.
Analysis: The Guardian has seen significant growth in the UK AND abroad.
Table: September unique visitors (millions) and percentage change since June
The Guardian’s total visitor numbers grew 14 per cent from June to September (up from 29m to 33m). There was a 17 per cent increase in UK visitors and a 12 per cent increase in visitors from abroad. This makes it the most popular online newspaper in the UK by some way (it’s 2.4m ahead of the Mail in second place).
UK visitors accounted for 36 per cent of the total in September (barely changed from 35 per cent in June).
Analysis: Telegraph sees growth overseas
Table: September unique visitors, percentage change since June
The Telegraph has also seen a 14 per cent increase in total visitors from June (27.2m) to September (31m).
However, the geographical breakdown is revealing – its UK unique visitor numbers are down one per cent from June to August but its overseas visitors are up 22 per cent (from 18m to 21.9m). It’s now the most visited UK newspaper abroad – but only the 3rd most visited inside the UK.
As a result, the proportion of its visitors that comes from the UK has fallen from 34 per cent to 29 per cent – the lowest of any UK newspaper (the Mail held this honour back in June).
The Telegraph saw the biggest increase in overseas visitors of any newspaper – but because its UK traffic fell, the Guardian beat it into 2nd place.
Analaysis: Mail Online records UK growth only
Table: September unique visitors, percentage change since June
The Mail’s traffic stood fairly still between June and September – it had 30m visitors last month, up just two per cent on three months ago. But its story is the reverse of the Telegraph’s.
The Mail saw strong UK growth – up 14 per cent to 9.5m visitors in three months. Overseas visitors, however, fell by 2 per cent to 20.6m. As a result, it now gets 32 per cent of its visitors from the UK (up from 28 per cent in June).
And the rest …
As for the others:
The Sun is down to 23m visitors in September, an 8 per cent fall over 3 months. A 15 per cent collapse in overseas visitors couldn’t make up for a 3 per cent increase in UK users.
The Times is a story of decline – 13 per cent down overall, with a 10 per cent fall in the UK and a 14 per cent fall from overseas.
The same is true of the Mirror Group (down 5 per cent overall) and the Independent (down 6 per cent overall) but to a lesser extent.
More than 50 million people used Twitter last month – an increase of more than 7 million from June, according to new data.
The website, which attracted 51.6 million unique users in July, now outranks the BBC and Craigslist in terms of monthly visitors. It has also become one of the top 50 most popular websites in the world, according to the research by comscore.com.
Kumar said: “We want to establish new and richer connections to the wider web where they are editorially relevant and meet our public purposes. We know that our users want us to do this and it’s a process that we take very seriously”