September 2nd, 2007

Google News Hosting Wire Service Stories Diminishes Value Of Duplicate Content

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When each local newspaper was a self-contained, non-overlapping, monopoly distribution channel, the news wires made all of the sense in the world — why have each newspaper spend its own resources to cover the same national and international stories? Just pool all of the newspapers’ resources and do it once.

But on the web, where anyone can access any information source in the world, news wires no longer makes as much sense, for the inverse reason that they once made sense — why should every newspaper carry the same version of the same story which can be accessed anywhere, including news portals, like Yahoo News, and now…Google News?

The wire version of a story used to be a valuable resource for a print newspaper. Online, it’s now a commodity, and Google has just completed the process of commodification.

The most salient line from Google’s announcement that Google News will now be hosting the full text of wire stories from four different services is this:

“Because of Google’s campaign to simultaneously reduce duplicate articles, the original wire service article is likely to be featured in Google News instead of versions of the same article from newspaper customers, sapping ad revenue to those newspapers.”

Google has long waged a battle against “duplicate content,” because it was a strategy for spamming the search index — Google punishes sites that use many versions of the same content to get try to get a more prominent search ranking for that content.

Now it appears that Google is taking the same approach to syndicated content — wire services like AP may be responsible for more duplicate content on the web than any other publisher.

There has been much hand-wringing about how local newspapers that publish “duplicate” AP content will no longer get traffic from Google News. These newspapers have been competing with the Yahoo News version of the AP stories for a long time in any case.

As William Hartnett points out, this traffic was probably not worth much anyway:

Were you getting loads of high-quality traffic, as opposed to drive-by one-timers, to generic, non-local wire copy on your site? Were people on The Internets beating down the virtual door of your localnewspaper.com looking for the latest, already-available-everywhere updates on big national and international stories?

Here’s the next question that all news organizations need to ask themselves — what’s UNIQUE about your coverage of a big story? Google News has purged all of the word-for-word duplicate content generated by wire services, but if you click on the 1,000+ other articles for any story on Google News, you’ll find dozens of news organizations covering the same story, often with all of the same facts.

In a siloed media world, this made sense. In a networked media world, is it really the best use of resources?

Matthew Ingram, as usual, puts his arms around all of the perspectives in this debate.

I’ll add one other observation — Google’s hosting wire stories will have an even broader impact, now that Google is featuring Google News results so prominently in its main web search results.

For example, many people don’t go to Google News to find out about a news story — they go to the main Google search. So let’s try searching for a story that is now in the news — one where people would likely want to find out more — “spinach recall

google-spinach-recall.jpg

If you look closely, you’ll notice something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a Google search result — the first three links all take you to another Google page.

Google used to be ALL about sending you elsewhere — but now Google may be shifting its focus to keep you on Google.

  • Google should stay with old business model of "Information Manager" NOT strictly provider. History says, any deviation may heart long term growth.

  • By putting news results on its main search page Google is already monetizing Google News. But the most interesting aspect of this move is that Google is increasingly competing directly with newspapers for pageviews.

    Sending traffic to news sites running Google AdSense is risky, it is much better to make sure traffic stays on GOOG pages. After all, Google AdSense can be turned off or swapped for another network in a Silicon Valley minute.

    There will be an increasing rift between news organisations and Google, IMHO. It is inevitable because both organizations are going after the same sources of money.

  • Rob

    Scott,

    You say, wire services were created to not "have each newspaper spend its own resources to cover the same national and international stories," but "just pool all of the newspapers’ resources and do it once."

    Did this really every happen?

    Sure my local city newspaper would rely on the AP/wire story, but the big city papers have until recently continued to send 3-5 reporters to "cover" a story.

    The city editor, the opinions guy, the columnist, oh and the online guy/gal.

    Sure people get "news" other ways now, but newspapers still need to stop conducting 21st century business using a 20th or (or even 19th) century business model. It doesn't take four people to cover a mayor who stinks, a cop who is corrupt or the national champion sports team.

  • While there are likely to be some yet-unknown implications to the Google/news service deal, most of the commentary I've seen so far is a bit apocalytic, I think.

    AP doesn't sell Google its "state wire" with local news that originates from our papers, so that traffic isn't affected. Neither is organic search. Like Damon, I believe there will be a techno-fix for questions about what content is genuinely AP and what is genuinely AP content and what is pickup/rewrite.

    What changes is that Google News readers won't click on one of the multiple newspaper sources previously listed by Google News for basic AP content. That's better for readers, isn't a big traffic source for us, and could even clear the way for better display and availability of the genuinely unique material newspaper websites feature.

    Anybody whose business plan revolves around drive-by traffic from incidental links to generic AP stories is already in deeper trouble than this issue suggests.

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