Will Google Help Save Old Media?

Google cares about whether quality news survives, says Josh Cohen. But what about quality newspapers?
  • Transcript


Question: What compromises or innovations have helped pacify Google News critics?

Josh Cohen: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a number of things that we're doing that get into that space about trying to -- I mean, Google News is somewhat unique in this way. I think every Google product, it doesn't work if the users don't like it. If people aren't excited about what you're doing -- and whether it's Gmail or Google Maps or YouTube or Google News -- I mean, if you don't have a product that people want to use, you kind of don't have anything. Google News is a little bit different, though, in that we have -- so much of it is dependent on our relationship with publishers. So we kind of have two audiences in that sense.

So some of the things that we've done, for example, we launched something in September in Google labs called Fast Flip -- as just one example of this -- where we were playing around with what does the news consumption look like. How do you change that? And so it allows you to have these sort of screen shots, and you can just rapidly flip from one page to the next, trying to marry that offline reading experience with some of the benefits of online aggregation and personalization. And we had when we first launched around 20 different titles -- I’m sorry -- 40 or so different titles from about 20 different publishing companies; you know, people like The New York Times and The Washington Post, BusinessWeek and a handful of others. And the response was really positive. I mean, obviously, you know, we had to sort of figure out, is this something that people want to use? And the numbers were really good. But also publishers were excited about it because they saw it as a different model, a different way to try and get their content out there. 

And then just last week, we just -- we announced that we doubled the number of publishers who are participating in this. It's still in labs, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what we're going to do with this, but we were really excited not only by the reaction that we got from users, but also from publishers, because they -- I think they see that we're continuing to innovate in this space, and now we're trying to figure out what can we do together; how can we experiment? I think one of the most exciting things with the conversations I had with publishers is, almost all of them these days tend to end with some variation of the statement, hey, when you're doing something new, we want to be your guinea pig. And for Google, that's great, because that's just how we tend to operate. So as more and more publishers kind of raise their hand and say, we want to figure this out too; we don't know what the right answer is, but we want to try something different, and we figure that there are ways that we can work together to try and do that -- that's -- I mean, I think that's really -- that's probably one of the more exciting things for me.

Question: Will Google try to sustain dying newspapers and the quality content they provide?

Josh Cohen: Well, I think one important clarification is, I think that we are less concerned about what the medium is. I think what we care about is making sure that news continues to survive, that enterprise journalism, that investigative pieces, that these types of things that traditionally have come through newspapers, that that type of content continues to survive. But whether or not it's in the newspaper form, or whether it's in a, you know, a Kindle, or whether it's online, I think we're pretty much agnostic about how that's done, as long as that content continues to survive. And so that's our real interest, is to try and make sure that news online not only survives, but thrives as well. So it's not necessarily about the newspaper per se.

Now, with that said, I mean, I think we're looking at all these different areas. We continue to figure out how we can -- to drive that traffic at. We've also looked at different ways of engagement, Fast Flip being one example of that. Another thing that we launched a couple of weeks ago with The New York Times and The Washington Post is another experiment called The Living Story Page, which is really trying to create a new format for news. So much of what you see online today is a reflection of what was in the newspaper, just -- you know, you've taken that article that was in the paper the day before and just stuck it online, not really taking advantage of the ways in which you can tell stories online. So this was an attempt to really just begin to experiment around a different sort of format and a different way of telling stories online -- tools like that and experiments like that to try and move the reader experience forward.

And then obviously the business model too. I mean, you certainly -- you can't ignore that, and so Google has an ongoing initiative of just -- it's core to our business -- about trying to improve online advertising and make it more efficient, make it more smarter, more targeted. But also we are looking at different models. We've had discussions with publishers around subscription content, things that we've already publicly announced with regards to Google Books and the ability to purchase digital copies of books from publishers through Google. I mean, is there a possibility to extend that into news, for example? And how could you leverage Google's technology to do it that way? So I think we are -- we have a lot in the mix right now, and I think we're trying to think about how we can move it forward in some of those different areas.