It isn’t about the content

Nick Carr (Google in the middle) and Scott Karp (How Google Stole Control Over Content Distribution By Stealing Links) are both on Google’s case this weekend. Their view is essentially that Google is hurting traditional media companies by becoming the dominant middleman in the distribution of content. Both articles are good reads, and Carr and Karp are smart fellows.

The problem is that the distribution of content isn’t the real problem for media companies; it’s the growing ability of advertisers to reach people without media companies. Advertising is the disruption that should trouble media companies, not what’s happening to their content. Ad-supported content is simply not a growth business anymore; it cannot provide sustainable growth, because the disruption isn’t about content.

This is why the “reinvention of journalism” concept is dicier than most think. If the mission is to find a way to better position content for advertising, it isn’t going to work (if “working” means growing revenue). This is why I advise clients to seek ways to make online money detached from the content they create by connecting consumers with advertisers in ways beyond simply serving ads. I think it’s possible we’ll come up with some form of user fee downstream that will help compensate journalists, but casting aspersions at Google is just a waste of effort. Google is an outstanding business and one that has undergirded J.D. Lasica’s famous “personal media revolution” since the beginning. Any media company on the planet could have done the same thing, but they didn’t.

And here’s the thing that’s most irritating to me in bitching about Google. Despite its intelligent algorithms, Google is what I call a “dumb” aggregator, meaning items are gleaned based entirely on software. “Smart” aggregators involve human intelligence calling the shots, and you’d think by now that somebody would have built one for news.

Comments

  1. Terry,

    re: “Despite its intelligent algorithms, Google is what I call a “dumb” aggregator, meaning items are gleaned based entirely on software. “Smart” aggregators involve human intelligence calling the shots, and you’d think by now that somebody would have built one for news.”

    With all due respect, that’s entirely wrong, which is the point of my post. Google’s “intelligence” is based on reading links on the web as “votes” for content. Those links are created by humans, when they choose to link to content. So when Google crawls your site, it reads your link to my post as a vote for the value of the post — it’s working off of your intelligent judgment of content.

    News orgs could build a “smarter” aggregator for news by harnessing a powerful source of human judgment that Google largely currently can’t tap into. (Hint: It’s inside their newsrooms.)

  2. Scott, we agree. You’d need to read the body of my work to fully understand where I’m coming from on this. Regardless of how many humans give value to sites via the currency of links, it’s still a dumb aggregator that can be gamed through technology. A smart aggregator, to which you allude, would be a living, breathing editor making the value judgments on what’s important in a news aggregator.

  3. “ability of advertisers to reach people without media companies”

    This has been the elephant in the room since the second website was built. Media companies haven’t figured out that we know the emperor is naked, and can talk to him direct.

  4. “A smart aggregator, to which you allude, would be a living, breathing editor making the value judgments on what’s important in a news aggregator.” It sounds like a really good page one editor on any serious newspaper or the program director in the days before Clear Channel.

Trackbacks

  1. […] When I talked about the attention gold rush, I wish I had put it as succinctly as Noah Brier did today: Terry Heaton makes a point I’ve been trying to articulate for years: “The problem is that the distribution of content isn’t the real problem for media companies; it’s the growing ability of advertisers to reach people without media companies.” […]

  2. […] When I talked about the attention gold rush, I wish I had put it as succinctly as Noah Brier did today: Terry Heaton makes a point I’ve been trying to articulate for years: “The problem is that the distribution of content isn’t the real problem for media companies; it’s the growing ability of advertisers to reach people without media companies.” […]

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