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.
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.