Google's answer to the publishers' big problem

Marissa Mayer, VP for search products and user experience at Google, spoke today at Le Web in Paris about the big problem facing publishers on the internet – how to make money in an age where consumers expect free content.

News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch has gone on the offensive recently, with rumours of him planning to remove all his company’s content from Google and place it on Bing in an effort to make money. Google’s response has been polite – Mayer today said, “We hope it doesn’t happen. Our goal is to be as comprehensive as possible. We have to respect the copyright owners because if we dont have the content we dont have a search engine. I hope for the sake of the quality of the search engine that doesnt happen.”

But they’ve also been gently insistent that they are doing lots to help the cause of ailing publishers. Mayer said in her interview with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, “We have developed a lot of programmes and products that help with the problem. We want to make it easy for people to monetise content, and we want to empower publishers. Plus, news search itself delivers billions of clicks on to these sites each month. We are quite motivated and compelled to produce solutions to this problem that really do help publishers.”

Mayer talked about a possible answer to the business model problem – the hyperpersonalised news stream – that kind of begs the question, instead of complaining, why don’t publishers harness some of the innovation inherent in successful web companies like Google?

Mayer didn’t say that (again, she was polite), instead talking about how papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are willing to be progressive, despite criticism of the contrary. But Google’s ideas of the personalised news stream sounds like the kind of idea one of the big publishing names should be coming up with, instead of starting playground fights over who gets to list what.

She said increasing engagement is crucial, adding, “When you read a newspaper there are lots of different columns and lots of different places for your eyes to go next. On most news web sites, there’s nowhere to go. Look at Amazon – when you buy something, it says ‘Here’s what you might like to buy next’. The web has an endless stream so why can’t I have a personalised stream of news that’s portable. You can read it on your desktop or mobile phone, it takes your preferences into account, the blogs you follow, your social circle, your location. Putting all that together, you can have a very compelling product which could really increased engagement.

“What form that takes is yet to be seen, but whatever solves the problem will probably have these characteristics.”