Sep 15, 2009
MG Siegler of TechCrunch wrote a great piece breaking the news that Google was launching a new News Reader at the TechCrunch50 today. According the Google Blog Post on the subject:
Like a print magazine, Fast Flip lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers. As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting. At the same time, we provide aggregation and search over many top newspapers and magazines, and the ability to share content with your friends and community.
… we believe that encouraging readers to read more news is a necessary part of the solution.
Essentially what FastFlip provides is a means to quickly browse though mini-screenshots of the participating publishers’s sites — mostly magazine publishers along with NYTimes, Washington Post and several others.
From a consumer standpoint, I don’t get this at all. I’ve spent from late 2005 to the end of last year almost exclusively on online news — seeing what’s worked and what doesn’t — and this feels like those “magazine readers” that appeared regularly through the last ten years. Consumers want to be able to read and scan and absorb and digest on headlines as fast as they can. The more “news-junkier” an consumer is, the higher the link density they are looking for. The emerging winners in large scale news aggregation over the past 5 years have all used a straightforward formula - great headline writing/editing, many many links, clearly laid out in a way that allows a consumer to quickly figure out what they’re looking for. See HuffPo, RealClearPolitics, and DrudgeReport for just a few examples. And certainly Drudge (their traffic numbers are on the site) is not niche - I would put their self-reported 665MM visits in last month against any other news home page out there.
While I was GM of Yahoo News in 2008, we launched a highly successful redesign of the news article and news home pages, one that resulted in a 300% increase in engagement. What was the driver of this engagement? Putting more relevant links and more relevant headlines, including from the BuzzTracker service under the Most Blogged About feature, very close to the the story folks were reading.
It’s all about relevancy, and the propinquity of available links.
So what’s the hubub over this new launch by Google? Yahoo News remains the number one online news source, by far, with a slew of competitors rounding up positions 2-5 (I dont believe Google News is in that list). What has gotten so very many people excited is that this site deigns to solve a problem for the Publishers — the very publishers who in many cases cover this news. Theoretically, if the audience here can be large enough (I obviously don’t buy that assertion), Google can put in place contextual ads next to the content itself and can then share the revenue back with the publishers.
Of course, this model further exacerbates the consumer problem — instead of reading NY Times content within the NY Times paper, and all the close-in links looking for my further engagement — I read one page that stands alone with arrows to read more to the left and right. If I do click on a link with the Times page, it takes me into the Time site so I have to click again. On top of that, you have a design that was optimized for standalone being force fed into this new model.
The problem Newspapers and Magazines are all having right now is driven by the accelerated shift of advertisers to measured/online media. Since newspapers and magazines are fixed cost businesses, as revenue declines super rapidly (although we’ve been watching this for years), at some point they go unprofitable and can’t ever make it up online. The reason is CPMs are much much lower online due to the availability of many substitute media to reach the same user, so traffic to create similar business models needs to be much much larger - something only a few properties, like Yahoo News, can pull off in a real way.
The right approach to fundamentally improve the business models of publishers online starts with the consumer experience and reach. There have been and will continue to be new winners in this space - winners that have innovated on the consumer experience. While I applaud the sentiment here - it sure feels to me like a concept that was driven by publishers’s needs vs. any actual consumer preference.