In a wide-ranging interview with the German Magazine Der Spiegel recently, the Head of Google Europe, Philipp Schindler, defended his company against the latest round of attacks from publishers who claim that Google is siphoning profits without creating content.
Truth be told, this argument is getting old and it suggests that the publishers themselves have abdicated any responsibility for their own lack of vision. The fact is that the newspaper industry has had years and years to deal with the internet and they never made any real attempt to rest control from Google, Craigslist or any of the other successful online ventures.
A Little History Lesson Might Help
If you consider that the web launched in the early 90s and commercialized by the mid-90s, that means that newspapers have had more than 15 years lead time. Also consider that the company they consider to be the big bad wolf of the internet, Google, didn't even exist before 1998 and didn't really become a force for several years after that.
Now consider that newspapers remained throughout the 90s, the main source of news and information. They had the content, but what they lacked was any foresight to take advantage of what was happening on the web. If you look at the web today, it's completely content-centric, yet newspapers whose main commodity has always been content have never been able to come up with creative solutions to deliver that content to the web while making money.
Take a Look in the Mirror
Fast forward to 2009 and the combination of the brutal worldwide recession, ad revenue sources moving online, falling readership rates and publishers leveraged with huge debt have come together with newspapers closing at an alarming rate. Also consider that modern Web 2.0 tools enable anyone with an internet connection and a computer to be a publisher and it has completely changed the dynamic of the industry.
Frustrated and angry at these changes, the industry desperately looks for blame and they see Google making big profits and vent at them, but is Google really the problem? Schindler to his credit is not completely unsympathetic, but he does suggest that newspapers have been slow to respond to obvious changes in the marketplace.
"We understand publishers' fears. But it's not our fault that people have decided to consume media in a digital form. I would be pleased if publishers would take the energy they're investing in attacks on Google and use it to develop successful Internet business models instead."
What if There Were No Google
Schindler points out that if there were no Google, the picture wouldn't be very different. "And just imagine if there were no Google. Would the individual publisher then be better off? No; on the contrary," he says. And the fact is he's right. Google delivers traffic and it's up to the publishers to take advantage of that, but if Google weren't the premiere search engine of the day another would be in its place.
It's really high time that the publishing industry stopped blaming Google for building a successful business model. Perhaps the industry should redirect the anger at themselves. There are many who believed the 20th century delivery model would never die, that people would always be looking for that paper on the door step every morning and that would continue to be the way we consumed news. Unwilling to accept any responsibility for its own lack of vision, the newspaper industry continues to blame Google and force Google executives like Schindler to make excuses for being successful. And how twisted is that?