Traditional Information Industry Opens Premium Content to Google News Archive
Posted On September 18, 2006
With the launch of Google News Archive (http://news.google.com/archivesearch), Google continues its incorporation of traditional information sources and its acceptance of the fact that not all of those sources come with no visible price tag. Last spring, the Google Book Search project began working with book publisher partners to add a paid viewing option for in-copyright material. The Google News Archive integrates free with for-fee references, alerting users to priced information, often with the actual price tag amounts, before connecting them with paid content Web sites. Content for the historical news coverage extends through a broad range of suppliers from publishers (e.g., TIME magazine, The New York Times, and The Washington Post) to aggregators (e.g., HighBeam Research, Factiva, NewspaperArchive.com, and LexisNexis). Special features on the service let users cluster results chronologically and view timelines; advanced features allow them to choose sources and price ranges.
The News Archive meets its promise to extend back hundreds of years, but—one warning—it does not constitute or incorporate a complete archive of items from Google News. A link to "News Archive Search" does appear on the Google News home page (http://news.google.com), but if you want to track news that happened in the last 30 days, Google News is your target. After 30 days, the News Archive might be a place to start, because Google News dumps any content more than 30 days old, but it doesn't dump it—or at least not anywhere near all of it—into the Google News Archive.
The News Archive offers two modes of results display—relevance-ranked lists of articles (Search Articles) and a timeline of events and articles generated around the query (Show Timeline). From the former article list mode, users can click on key time periods scanning years or decades to limit results to a specific time period, recommended dates, or suggested publications. The system groups results and then suggests a representative article for each group, while still allowing users to reach all the articles in a group. The timelines provide a sampler of key time periods for an event, with selected representative results displayed in chronological order. From a timeline display of results, searchers see significant points in coverage of an event sequence with articles grouped around key dates. Again users get a representative article, plus links to all the articles in a group.
In both types of results displays, users are offered a feature which Bill Brougher, Google News Archive product manager, considers a hidden gem. It's one that might answer some criticisms already raised by people trying out the new service. Click on Related Web Pages and you will connect to open Web links selected around common themes of articles drawn by your search. In the case of historical research, this would often mean jumping to reference information, such as coverage in Wikipedia. Brougher relishes the way Google News Archive searches can give users a sense of events as they unfolded at the time, but admits that a historical recap, such as an encyclopedia article, would satisfy many user requests.
The Advanced Search features in News Archive let searchers restrict to day, month, and year. Before you enter the specific day of a historical event, remember that the system will only retrieve the date of publication. Even the best daily newspapers often need at least overnight to produce a story on an event, and some good news sources are not dailies. Searchers can also restrict to before or after a given date by leaving the corresponding "from" or "to" date fields blank. Searchers can also restrict to a particular publication or information provider by using the source field. Restricting to a price range is another option, though Google warns searchers that selecting "no price" may lose a lot of relevant information. A better approach they suggest would be to click on the "all related" link to review all articles in a group and scan to see which ones might not carry charges. That approach might also pull up more open Web content links.
A searcher who clicks on a premium content entry will go to the publisher's Web site and, hopefully, will see a minimum preview of the linked reference. Brougher said that Google was "helping publishers with conversions. After all, if the landing page is good, more people will convert and buy the product. It also improves the usefulness to the user, as well as from the publisher standpoint." When I asked if Google had made the preview mandatory for inclusion in News Archive, Brougher responded, "Sort of."
Money, Money, Money
Google itself does not handle any money exchanges for premium content, even though it launched a Google Checkout payment system to assist online shoppers in June. It neither receives any payments when News Archive searchers purchase articles nor does it accept payments for including content in News Archive searches. Having said that—and received dutiful confirmation from both Brougher and Jim Gerber, director of content partnerships at Google—the rumors continue to circulate that this move represents a step in the development of the "Google Premium" initiative, which could, in time, reach any or even all paid content.
At present, publishers and database aggregators with paid content appear to be using the new initiative to test a number of different business models. (For details on what pricing different content providers set, as well as what kind of content, read "Who? What? How Much?: Google News Archive Premium Content Suppliers," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=18227.) Publishers that have placed their archives free on the open Web may not even have formal arrangements with Google but instead rely on the general Google Web search spiders to find their data and the Google News Archive algorithms to integrate it into the new service. By the way, any publishers that find their data so incorporated in either Google News or Google News Archive may request to have it removed; these requests will be accommodated.
Approaches in use include pay-per-view for each item, low-level monthly subscriptions as a minimum, registration-only, free with ad displays, or combinations. Some publishers have been urging Google to access their archives for some time. Google seems comfortable with any business model that opens up content to its users. When I suggested to Brougher and Gerber that access via a monthly unlimited subscription to large content services such as HighBeam or NewspaperArchive.com might lure searchers away from Google, they didn't seem worried. "We're really about discovery," said Brougher. "If it helps HighBeam, that's great. It just makes Google more valuable."
Patrick Spain, chairman and CEO of HighBeam, believes that general news and popular magazine publishers have begun to return to their business model roots. "Big publishers never made any money for subscriptions. Generally subscriptions just proved to advertisers that they had an engaged audience. For most newspapers, subscriptions did not even cover the cost of printing and delivery, much less editorial and overhead. Digital archives became pay things because they were an anomaly. There was no online advertising when they began 40 years ago. Now publishers are realizing they can make more money on archives with advertising, though this is not true for all publishers." Spain also pointed out that Google AdSense and similar consumer targeting tools can make niche advertising very easy and successful. Putting articles in Google, according to Spain, can increase traffic manyfold. In fact, he said this about the launch of Google News Archive: "We had a very nice bump the day it launched and it has continued. Users are coming to us who are highly qualified for becoming subscribers, several times more likely to become subscribers than the average persons we get off the Web. It makes sense. People there are looking for archives and [are] aware we will charge."
Alan Scott, chief marketing officer at Factiva, had a somewhat different slant. Factiva is contributing a fairly narrow range of content— 18 popular topics with less than 2 years coverage. Scott sees clearly the opportunities in this development, but he keeps looking for the monetization. "Some magazine publishers and publishers in general are looking at this approach. They need to drive traffic to their sites as print sales keep dropping. Some are already on Factiva and/or indexed through their own site[s], but depend on Factiva for the revenue stream from information professionals and other professionals. It's all over the place, but [it's] mainly a function of sophistication and the commitment to electronic publication." When it comes to Factiva's plans, Scott said, "Both our parents [Dow Jones and Reuters] are ad-based, but we're meant to enhance enterprise products and services— sales people, marketing, information professionals, researchers, knowledge workers. So, we're not aggressively pursuing the advertising business model." Nonetheless, Scott added, "Everyone in the information industry has to be aware of all revenue options. New business models can provide the market with new tools. It's a big opportunity for us and our customers."
Everybody has something to say about anything Google does, it seems. Oddly enough, two of the most frequently heard negative reactions to Google News Archive seemed to be back-handed compliments. Content providers or their gurus complained about the absence of their content or at least its absence at the top of the relevance-ranked results. Some thought an invisible pecking order was in place: 1) free, 2) publisher-supplied, 3) aggregators. Google denied any such biases, proclaiming its only bias was for the interests of its searchers. Librarians or their gurus complained that Google News Archive lacked links to library collections, like those in Google Scholar, that could reach licensed, prepaid access to full-text articles. This seemed particularly unfortunate considering that Google News Archive's chief designer was Anurag Acharya, designer and master of Google Scholar, a link-resolved service. When asked to comment on this omission, Brougher said that the News Archive was "not quite as structured as Scholar. It could take a little more work, but it does sound useful."
As for future plans already on the agenda, Google plans to add more multilingual and non-U.S. content and more archives in general. If you have one to suggest or to offer, the company would love to hear about it. Gerber made it clear: "We would love to get more. There is a tremendous amount of room for this product to evolve over time. We have great ideas on the way this could go in terms of content and types of content and features, such as links to Google Scholar or Google Book Search. Our partners have strong institutional business[es], but this enables them to grow their consumer business, to compliment their existing business. It's a net plus for all publishers and aggregators and our customers."