The [Wednesday] Papers
As readers of this column may know, I'm a big fan of Google. And they've done it again
"On Wednesday, Google will unveil a service offering bicycling directions on its Google Maps feature," the Tribune reports.
"Hard-core and recreational cyclists will be able to use the Web-based technology to plan trips or explore biking trails and routes in Chicago and 149 other U.S. cities, Google officials said."
And guess what? It's free!
Free in the sense - as always - that the user does not have to pay a direct fee to access the service, which you can find here.
"After typing in start and end points and selecting 'Bicycling'' on the drop-down menu, a user will be provided with itineraries and estimated travel times, although trip times undoubtedly will vary depending on the pedaling power of the individual," the Trib explains.
"But to allow for such variations, the step-by-step biking directions factor in the length of the trip, changes in elevation and even fatigue, Google officials said."
How cool is that?
Google has tons of great products and interesting ideas beyond search and advertising. Check this page out.
Google is not done innovating in advertising, though. Those weirdly quick to claim that online advertising is dead, dying or will never reach the heights of print advertising simply aren't paying attention to a sector still in its infancy.
"Now that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has done the heavy lifting of fully integrating and, last month, upgrading DoubleClick's system with AdSense and AdWords, the search giant plans a series of tweaks as it strives to make display its 'next billion-dollar business,' as CEO Eric Schmidt put it," paidContent reported recently in a post called "Google Makes A Bid For More Premium Display Dollars With 'Above The Fold' Ads."
"One way to get there is more premium pricing from brand advertisers as opposed to Google's typical direct response campaigns. And that's the focus of a new tool Google is unveiling today that promises 'above the fold' placement for display ads. Aimed at major marketers, advertisers will be able to bid against each other for display units across the Google Content Network with the guarantee that the winning ads will appear only in the top half of users' screens."
Team Google is also more insightful about the newspaper industry than the newspaper industry itself.
"The news industry's financial problems started well before the web came along," Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, wrote in a post Tuesday on the company's public policy blog. "Circulation has been falling since 1985 and circulation per household has been falling since 1947! Ad revenue for newspapers was roughly constant in real terms up until 2005, and ad revenue per reader actually increased up until that time. Since then, the drop in advertising rates due to the recession, coupled with a significant drop in circulation, has exacerbated newspapers' financial difficulties."
And, ahem, here's something I've been saying for years - to much resistance.
"[T]he real money in search engine advertising is in the highly commercial verticals like Shopping, Health, and Travel. Unfortunately, most of the search clicks that go to newspapers are in categories like Sports, News & Current Events, and Local, which don't attract the biggest spending advertisers.
"This isn't so surprising: the fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news. They've made money from the special interest sections on topics such as Automotive, Travel, Home & Garden, Food & Drink, and so on. These sections attract contextually targeted advertising, which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising. After all, someone reading the Automotive section is likely to be more interested in cars than the average consumer, so advertisers will pay a premium to reach those consumers.
"Traditionally, the ad revenue from these special sections has been used to cross-subsidize the core news production. Nowadays internet users go directly to websites like Edmunds, Orbitz, Epicurious, and Amazon to look for products and services in specialized areas. Not surprisingly, advertisers follow those eyeballs, which makes the traditional cross-subsidization model that newspapers have used far more difficult."
This is why I've argued that trying to figure out how to get people to "pay" for news is a fool's errand; news is not a commodity, never has been a commodity, and shouldn't be a commodity. This is also why new local news models have a record of failure, and why funders - be them foundations or venture capitalists - ought to rethink their jones for citizen journalism and community news projects that don't have realistic business models and why newspaper companies need to move into vertical - and niche - playing fields in part by leveraging the expertise and resources already in their organizations, much of which has long gone unused.
Finally, Varian writes:
"There are huge cost savings associated with online news. Roughly 50% of the cost of producing a physical newspaper is in printing and distribution, with only about 15% of total costs being editorial. Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet."
And on another front:
"Google Inc. is testing a new television-programming search service with Dish Network Corp., according to people familiar with the matter, the latest development in a fast-moving race to combine Internet content with conventional TV," the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
Media maven Ken Auletta - author of "Googled" in a letter last December to the New York Times Book Review:
"In fact, the book repeatedly argues that traditional media were slow to awaken to the digital revolution and have mistakenly scapegoated Google."
"Page and Brin," one observer tells Auletta, "'are utopians,' believing deeply that 'if people have better information they will live better lives.'"
Isn't that essentially the same core principle held by journalists?
And so on.
I fear not for journalism; the Internet is its savior.
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Posted on March 10, 2010
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