Google's Vain Advice to Save Newspapers

Shorter version: engage, experiment, pray

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On Tuesday, Hal Varian, Google's top economist, delivered a keynote address on the economics of the newspaper industry. He's a notable expert on the subject, in part because of his access to Google News traffic statistics and online ad revenues. Overall, Varian found that print publishing costs are untenable, and argued that newspapers don't do enough to engage readers. While some are dismiss the ideas as less-than-groundbreaking, others are taking his advice in earnest.

  • He's Dead on About User Engagement, writes Matthew Ingram at GigaOm: "One of the reasons why the news in general fails to hold people’s attention for very long, and why newspapers have fairly pathetic 'time spent' statistics compared to lots of other web sites, is that it does little or nothing to engage the reader. The delivery of most news stories is a bare-bones 'here are the facts' approach, with little or no interactivity or room for external input. Why would anyone stick around?"
  • Newspapers Are Screwed, writes Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher: "Mr Varian is in an excellent position to know what works, and what doesn't work in online media. He has access to more information than any single newspaper publisher and thus can provide important insights into the newspaper business. What did Mr Varian advise newspapers to do? "Experiment, experiment, experiment,"...If that's the best Mr Varian can come up with, that's very bad news for newspapers."
  • Stop the Presses! says Netscape founder Marc Andreeson, who recently spoke with TechCrunch. He agrees with Varian that “Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet.”  He says printing presses are too expensive and media execs should go web-only.
  • No, Keep Them Going, insists Paul Gillin at Newspaper Death Watch: "Andreessen has a point that it makes senses to abandon failing models in the long term, but setting fire to profitable print operations is the wrong strategy at the moment. After years of fretting over declining circulation and trying desperately to rejuvenate a dying business, newspaper publishers are finally adopting an intelligent strategy. They’re milking all they can from their profitable business while trying to manage it down to a level that new models can take over."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.