Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Rethinking Newspapers in Print: Google Exec Says Technology's Disruption Will Never Stop. Is That a Big Problem or a Big Opportunity in Disguise?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Rethinking Newspapers in Print: Google Exec Says Technology's Disruption Will Never Stop. Is That a Big Problem or a Big Opportunity in Disguise?

Article excerpt

In a Feb. 25 article, AdWeek's Tim Peterson asked of Google senior vice of advertising Susan Wojcicki (in a screaming headline, no less): "Is this the most important person in advertising?" The staff writer quickly pointed out that Wojcicki runs a $43.7 billion ad business. In a follow-up report, Business Insider spun its own headline: "Google just described its vision for the demise of print advertising."

Does this really come as a surprise to anyone? "Wojcicki told AdWeek how she sees ad dollars continuing to move out of traditional media in favor of online, wrote BI deputy editor Jim Edwards. "In response to a question about how Google chief business officer Nikesh Arora believes 50 percent of all ad spend will switch online in five years, she said she believed print would continue to be the preferred victim of that shift, as people stop buying magazines and papers because they already own tablets and iPads. At that point, all Google has to do is wait until advertisers' dollars catch up to where the customers' eyes already are."

Globally, newspaper readership has declined by some 20 percent, according to industry analyst Neil Falconer, managing director at U.K. firm Print Future. Last year, Google raked in nearly $43.7 billion--more than print advertising in newspapers and magazines combined (see March 2013 issue of E&P).

Also in 2012, Richard Gingras, Google's head of news and social products and Boston College alumnus (class of 1973), made the university circuit with stops at Harvard and MIT before heading back west to Stanford. With roots in television, Gingras' work in online services reaches back to the beginning of interactive media in the U.S. He has shaken up "old media" by likening newspapers to outdated Internet portals such as AOL and Yahoo. Unless print publishers can adapt to the Web --rather than fight it--they are doomed, Gingras has warned.

"Sometimes, I think folks in the news industry like to comfort themselves by thinking that somehow we're going from a transition from one point of stasis to another, and then it'll all become cozy again, and we can sit back and breathe easy for another 50 years," Gingras said in an October 2012 seminar at Stanford. "That's clearly not going to be the case--things are going to continue to change."

TV threatened newspapers, too

In January, Gingras spoke at Arizona State University, again stressing that old models for revenue, content, and storytelling need to be completely rethought, rather than merely transformed, for the news business to thrive in the digital age. "As long as one thinks transformationally, you limit your capabilities because you limit yourself," he said. "It doesn't work. Worse than not working, it becomes self-defeating ... We really do need to rethink everything."

Gingras' ASU keynote covered some of the same ground as his speech last August at the annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference, as reported by Craig Silverman for the Poynter Institute. The Google exec shared data that explained how the introduction of television in 1949 took advertising dollars away from newspapers, causing the loss of some local newspapers. This contraction resulted in monopoly or near-monopoly papers that suddenly became hugely profitable.

"They went from fighting for every ad dollar to having near monopolistic control over local ad pricing," he said. …

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