Google’s Fast Flip – a cruel joke on the news industry

So Google launched Fast Flip yesterday, a Labs experiment that allows you to ‘experience’ news websites in a similar way to their analogue equivalents. Yes, you can ‘flick’ through pages of news.

Woo-hoo.

Superficially this appears little more than a repeat of many similar experiments in the past decade from publishers who thought readers wanted an analogue experience online and commissioned disproportionately expensive technologies that allowed you to ‘turn the page’ on-screen (I turned down one such technology myself as a magazine editor as long as 10 years ago). Things have moved on so much that anyone can have this flashy technology for themselves for free by going to Issuu.

So why are the web-native minds of Google wasting time on such an analogue-mindset concept?

Here’s the laughable quote that I think is key:

“To make money, Fast Flip also serves up contextual adverts around the screenshots.

“Publishers who have signed up to provide content to the service will share in that revenue; that was proof, said Ms Mayer, that Google was keen to help the industry at a time when it was clearly struggling.”

Oh yes, that’s concrete proof alright.

Allow me to call bullshit. If this is concrete proof of anything, it is proof that Google are prepared to cash in on the blind panic of the news industry in the midst of a crisis. Add in their recently mooted micropayments system and it’s almost as if Google are having a bit of fun tormenting ants with a magnifying glass.

Until now Google has walked a fine line in claiming that it is not the parasite that the news industry says it is. It does did not sell adverts on Google News, it is generally the major source of traffic to news websites, and publishers are free to remove themselves from Google’s listings through a simple piece of script.

Fast Flip and the micropayments system are moves to take them over that line – despite the claims to be ‘helping’ the news industry any relationship is likely to be skewed in the other direction – as anyone who has tried to make a living from AdSense will tell you. Note that, like AdSense:

“Google is running banner ads alongside the article thumbnails, the proceeds of which will be split with publishers (though Google won’t disclose the terms of the revenue split).”

Of course, by hosting screenshots Google are eating into one of the key metrics that publishers use to sell advertising: the time a user spends on your site. And given that many readers don’t read beyond the first few pars, there’s a good chance it will eat into the numbers clicking through to the actual page at all. So unless Google’s ad rates are significantly higher, what reason at all would a commercial publisher have to sign up to a scheme that devalues their own ad inventory in exchange for some pennies from Google? Blind panic in the midst of a crisis, that’s all.

22 thoughts on “Google’s Fast Flip – a cruel joke on the news industry

  1. Marc Munier

    Yes it’s a bit like “do you want to play football?” “yes”, “you are in goal” I don’t want to be in goal” ” it’s my football – get in the goal” “ok”.

    The newspapers will sooner or later have to either play by the rules that Google sets or innovate in such a way that Google isn’t part of the equation – good luck to them.

    Reply
  2. Zach Beauvais

    Paul,

    I disagree here-not because I think Google deeply cares about the news media, but because I think there’s a different paradigm at work. Advertising could be a blip-a waning revenue stream, whereas authority is a constant currency. If Google is doing a good job at provinance awareness, then it is probably a good thing to be consumed as many ways as possible-even for free. Obviously, this is provided the content, coverage and comment are quality.
    Google making your news easier to consume means more people may consume it.

    I also wonder whether this is actually furthering the hegemony of a few select media? After all, Google makes it easy for the theoretical consumption of my own comment and ramblings, offering the web the chice to read yet another perspective from a self-published source. But, given the choice, won’t most people click on the names they already know?

    Some metrics would help that stance methinks.

    Reply
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  4. paulbradshaw

    I’m not sure I buy the line that Google is helping people ‘consume more news’ (as they say in their statement), and therefore helping the news industry. There’s only so much ‘news’ that people can consume, and only so much advertising you can sell. Given that finite supply and demand, Google is always going to take the lion’s share, and based on Google’s track record I don’t expect the remainder to be equivalent to what the news industry could make online on their own.

    Reply
  5. Dan

    So the news industry has been signaling since late spring that they were going to micropayments, paywalls, paid content, etc. And the only reason this hasn’t happened yet appears to be the inherent slowness of a change-averse industry.

    Like paywalls, analog viewing software is very much a “back-to-the-future” effort. I see no progress or innovation anywhere, so the question is, how long can this go on?

    Reply
  6. paulbradshaw

    Yes, Google is almost saying ‘Look what we can do in 2 weeks, on 20% time, what you have taken years to do’.
    There is a little innovation in the proposed ‘personalisation’ of news based on your Google account, to be fair.

    Reply
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  12. Richard

    The post misses the impact of the Fast Flip service. It isn’t another Issuu. Two minutes on Issuu shows it’s a load of crap. Five minutes with fast flip shows a highly usable service. It’s not the idea (analog, schmanalog), it’s the implementation. Fast flip is fast, and it supplies articles from a fairly good set of sources. It’s going to be popular because it so usable.

    Google isn’t doing this to save newspapers or any such thing; it’s doing it for itself (duh). It probably believes it can do it much more competently than others (and it seems to be right in that). The publishers are not signing in blind panic I’m sure, although likely with some nervousness. They probably expect little from the ad revenue sharing, but do expect to benefit from the traffic, even if it is with slightly shorter time-on-site.

    Reply
  13. paulbradshaw

    As you can see from my previous post, I was being rather ingenuous in implying it is another Issuu – Fast Flip does benefit form Google’s processing power (i.e. yes, it’s faster than equivalents – although images do slow it down as other commentators have noted) and personalisation power (basically the fact that Google is likely to know what you search for, click on, email about, etc.).
    I’m not sure how publishers can expect more traffic from this other than the fact that the competition is smaller because this is a new service that only a few dozen news providers have signed up to. But as I say, the numbers who don’t click through (and who would have clicked through on Google News) probably negate any added clicks.

    Reply
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  16. Robert

    Sorry fact about all this Google-vs-Publisher battle is that the only imaginable countermeasure publishers can think of is to call for protectional help from the government. This hasn’t helped any dying industry in the past – but why would they learn from history?

    Reply
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