Google is abandoning in its ambitious free News Archive project in order to focus on its new pay-to-play subscription program for publishers. Launched in September 2008, the News Archive initiative invited hundreds of newspaper publishers worldwide to submit their archives which Google would then scan, index and offer to users for free. Instead, the company said in an email to hundreds of newspaper partners that, despite having scanned 60 million pages over a span of 250 years, Google will devote its resources to "newer projects that help the industry, such as Google One Pass, a platform that enables publishers to sell content and subscriptions directly from their own sites."
Google announced One Pass in February as a "vision of a premium content ecosystem" in a move that directly undercut Apple's similar media subscription plan. The fairly all-encompassing revenue-sharing model stirred varying responses from the journalism community. Harvard's Nieman Lab pointed out how a Google One Pass partnership came bundled with the 160 million Google users who have credit cards already attached to their accounts. And with Google taking a 10 percent cut versus Apple's 30 percent cut, publishers would simply make more money. GigaOm's Mathew Ingram added that despite lots of benefits, "Google’s One Pass is pretty much just a warmed-over content paywall."
While we at The Atlantic Wire are very much in favor of helping news organizations make money, Google's News Archive also held real value for the history journalism history. And depending on how much of a yeasayer you are for the role of the press, it meant the News Archive had something to contribute to humanity. Google sounded like they were in that camp when they announced the project in an idealistic blog post in 2008:
For more than 200 years, matters of local and national significance have been conveyed in newsprint -- from revolutions and politics to fashion to local weather or high school football scores. Around the globe, we estimate that there are billions of news pages containing every story ever written. And it's our goal to help readers find all of them, from the smallest local weekly paper up to the largest national daily.
The problem is that most of these newspapers are not available online. We want to change that.
Weighed next to Ingram's observation about One Pass as pay wall, abandoning the News Archive not only abandons its original mission, it also contradicts it. Struggling to find the right way to articulate some mixed feelings over Google's about-face, I dove into the partially completed archive--which fortunately will remain online and searchable--in search of a quote and got pretty distracted. Bear with me.
Google's News Archive used this page to show off the features which allow you to search by date, publication or single words in an article.
The pre-Revolutionary New-York Gazette, a weekly paper later known as the New-York Sunday Mercury, was New York's first newspaper and was first printed in November 1725 by William Bradford. A couple fun facts: in a matter of speaking, the Mercury started America's first sports page, reporting regularly from 1853 onward the scores of local baseball teams like the Knickerbockers and the Gothams. Later that century, the Mercury would be the first paper in the East to publish work by Mark Twain.
This March 23, 1752 edition of The Halifax Gazette is the oldest newspaper in Google's News Archive.
The text of first paragraph of the first page text is a bit hard to read but seems somehow fitting so here it is transcribed:
As many of the Subscribers to the Proposals for publishing of this Paper, may be desirous of knowing the Cause why it hath been so long delayed; the Printer begs Leave to inform them, That the Gentleman who is possessed of the original Subscriptions, whenever desired, will give them a satisfactory Account. And as the Letter-Press is now commodiously fixed for the Printing Business, all such Gentlemen, Merchants, and others, as may have Occasion for any Thing in that Way, may depend on being served in a reasonable and expeditious Manner by their Most Obedient, Humble Servant, John Bushell.
In short hand, if you want a subscription to the newspaper, pay the publisher. Maybe it's just late on a Friday, but it seems somehow fitting that Google's free newspaper archive project can reminded readers that even in the 18th century, people had to pay for newspapers subscriptions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.