3 Ways Google Keeps Newspapers in Business

“Search engines don’t create content, it’s really about helping people find content,” says Josh Cohen, Business Product Manager for Google News

We’ve seen the layoffs in the magazine industry, and the outlook is hopeful, but a little dismal. So how are newspapers looking for 2009? Not bad, actually. “For the first nine months of this year, the average operating profit margin [in the newspaper industry] was 11 percent”, said John Morton, a newspaper analyst to Ben Adair on NPR during a segment called “The Death of News” this past Saturday. “There are some industries that can’t ever hope to get that high of a profit margin.”

Morton admitted that while we might hear about a downturn for the big city papers like the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times, there are still about 1400 daily newspapers in the US with 35k+ circulation. “For the most part, smaller papers are doing better than larger ones. And privately held companies are fairing better than publicly traded.” Morton noted.

So how is it that newspapers are still hanging on, while magazines, rich with feature content—as opposed to news—need to hang on to their seats? How about a little help from our friend Google?

1. Google News – The content provided on Google News is merely an aggregation of the top news websites. From Google News, you click on a news article and are taken to the source site. Newspaper sites and Google News co-exist naturally.

Josh Cohen, Business Product Manager of Google News says that contrary to popular belief, aggregator sites like his depend on daily newspapers and really want them to succeed and be profitable so they can keep covering their local communities.

“Search engines don’t create content,” explains Cohen. “It’s really about helping people find content. So if there’s not great content, whether it’s newspapers or other types of content, there’s really not a lot for people to search for.”

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2. Google Maps – Along with many other Google tools, Google provides features to news sites that can become invaluable to their growth. A recent example, cited by Ben Adair was an easily updated Google Map that the LA Times put on its website to keep the people of Los Angeles informed of the latest wildfires.

When you clicked the map, you could see the ever-changing boundaries of the fire and look at new photos linked to very specific locations. You could see where the evacuation sites were located, and even get directions to drive there and volunteer.

3. Google AdSenseMany newspaper publishers are partnering with Google by buying and selling display advertising. From text ads, to sponsored video content. “It’s not the new economic model for daily papers, but it could be a part of it,” says Adair.

Another model for advertising outlets is the announcement that Google has begun scanning microfilm from some newspapers’ historic archives (with permission from the publishers). According to The New York Times, the new program allows Google News users to search the archives of some major newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time, that were already available in digital form. Readers will be able to search the archives using keywords and view articles as they appeared originally in the print pages of newspapers.

Under the expanded program, Google will absorb the cost of digitizing the newspaper archives and will place advertisements alongside search results, and share the revenue from those ads with newspaper publishers. At first, the archives will only be available on Google News, but in the long run, will be creating the technology for newspapers to use the archives on their own sites.

“More and more people are reading the news these days, they’re just reading it in a different way,” says Cohen. “And so increasingly from our side… we’re able to provide the papers with reach that they don’t necessarily have on their own.”

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