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Can Yahoo! and local papers save each other?

an image of the Yahoo! logo

What with Google shifting some of its considerable weight towards old school ‘off-line’ advertising, we’re now starting to feel the first tremors of that seismic shift:

Yahoo! announced this morning a partnership with a number of large newspaper chains, controlling a total of 176 publications, to share content and functionality. Both Yahoo! and local papers around the US are in a state of crisis, which is amazing if you consider the market and mind shares both still control. Will this partnership make a significant difference for either party? I don’t think it will.”

That sort of reminds me of a headline from March this year: “Should Yahoo buy a newspaper?”

“Last week, McClatchy announced it would pay $4.5 billion to acquire newspaper publisher Knight-Ridder. McClatchy also said it planned on selling 12 of the chain’s papers, including Silicon Valley’s hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News … Yahoo could become the international test bed for the transition we all know is coming in print journalism. (One place it could start is fulfilling the promise of the under-utilized SiliconValley.com asset that Knight Ridder has failed to nurture)…”

However, not all that Google lay their many hands on turns to gold:

“However, a closer look at Google’s foray into magazine ads suggests it could be in for a tough slog. Sure, plenty of publishers are clamoring to snare ad dollars from Google.

But a BusinessWeek analysis of Google’s pilot, including interviews with 10 advertisers and two publishers, indicates that advertisers haven’t warmed to the program so far.

Only one of 10 advertisers interviewed by BusinessWeek said their print ad performed well enough to recoup the money it cost. And eight of the 10 were unhappy enough with the results that they say they’re unlikely to do further print advertising with Google.”

So are Yahoo! just doin’ a ‘me too’ thing, or is this a genuine, strategic effort to take the lead?

Right now, Yahoo! need market share. There’s nothing to be gained from standing still and there’s no runners-up prize, either.

What might Yahoo! take from Google’s stumble?

A mistake by your enemy is a lesson learned by you. Assuming that Google has got things a little wrong, Yahoo! can see how not to approach something like print-based advertising.

Maybe Yahoo! can approach the idea of print-based advertising from a different angle?

Personally, I just can’t understand what Google was thinking of. Everything they do is about accruing data and controlling the horizontal and the vertical to the nth degree .. then they go and get into print!

TechCrunch summarized the problem most of the existing print publishers face:

“Small, agile, low-overhead local sites that incorporate everything from the authenticity of blogging to the power of video to the immediacy and usefulness of mobile devices are just around the corner. Newspapers will likely retain superior access to other lumbering social institutions for some time, but all parties are going to have to change faster than they will be comfortable with.”

Which struck a cord with me because I’ve been seeing things much the same way myself for some time:

“People routinely sit on a train with a huge sheet of paper in their hands. In the not too distant future, four things will come together and make something very real: proper micro-payments (small ecommerce transactions), pervasive wireless access, extremely flexible fabric screens and finally, the pressures of recycling [to make e-paper a cost-effective reality].

The pressures to recycle will increase, so the amount of paper being used by each person on a daily basis will dwindle. In time, all but the largest newspapers will close shop. The major players will merge or partner with other media producers.

Also, ‘blogging will mature, which itself will be a contributing factor in the demise of smaller newspapers. And local, region-specific news coverage will then be tethered to the remaining major players, with ‘blogging ceasing to exist as a real term, and becoming anachronistic, since all news will be subject to democratic, social commentary.

Actually buying a newspaper will be almost meaningless. You’ll buy one ‘newspaper’, which will be a sheet of fabric with most of the beneficial properties of paper, while having all of the main attributes of a touch screen.

The content of which is constantly updated as and when more recent news emerges. A continual cycle of news, sport, finance, politics et cetera .. including your favourite cross words & puzzles!

But only the stuff that you’re interested in. Remember, this is your newspaper, so it would also be your choice what you want to see. Thus, the micro-payments are built around a pay-as-you-go model. Live footage and media coverage playing right there in your hands, all fed to you wirelessly.”

Phew!

Some way off, yes! But, this is where things are headed.

The aforementioned gadget future-gazing takes its cues from being partly technology-driven, partly needs-driven and partly a result of environmental forces.

Right now, there are similar forces at work, only is smaller measures.

The printed word is not going to vanish any time soon, but there are better ways of reading your sports news or current affairs over your cereal first thing on a morning, on the train, car or bus commute to work or even in the smallest room in the house!

The way I see it is that three qualities will decide what market share both Google and Yahoo! gain or lose over the next 5 years: a keen eye for a new venue for search and advertising, the desire and the will to take a gamble, and the ability to get out trouble faster than they got in there in the first place.

Tell you what, should either of these two make a mistake, it’ll be headline-grabbing stuff, I can tell you…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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