I’m flabbergasted with some of the coverage surrounding yesterday’s launch of Google Fast Flip. For your reference, Fast Flip is a new Google Labs experiment that enables people to browse and search online and print articles in a quick, visual way. Additionally, it allows users to share articles with other people and has a degree of personalization to it since it sort of adapts to your reading behavior. To build Fast Flip, Google partnered with three dozen top publishers (TechCrunch, NY Times, Newsweek, and others) who will share revenue earned from contextually relevant ads.
So essentially, we’re talking about an experimental product introduced by a company whose core business is online search and advertising that basically makes it easier to – gasp – search and monetize online content. You could just as well consider it a Google News feature, and a cool one at that, but it is and remains nothing but a feature.
So why exactly am I reading headlines like ‘Google Fast Flip is Death to the Newspaper Industry’ and ‘Is Fast Flip Really the Best Google Can Do to Save the News?’?
No, Google is not becoming the ‘source’ of all news overnight and monopolizing aggregation. No, the personalization element doesn’t suddenly give everyone a reason to stay away from traditional media (even though they could contain stories you might not be interested in). And no, the revenue-sharing aspect is not going to make a dent in newspaper companies’ income.
There’s a pattern here, of course, because this sort of thing happens every single time Google does anything in any way related to online content. There’s been a battle raging for years between publishers and Google, with the former complaining that the company makes money off their backs without providing adequate compensation for their content. Google counters by saying its initiatives are perfectly legal and can benefit publishers tremendously (we tend to agree). Now publishers are considering ways to charge for online content, and Google wants to be part of those plans too. There’s no denying there’s tension, opposite viewpoints and strategies, and a complicated love-hate relationship that’s bound to continue for the next few years.
But seriously, when was the last time Google – or any company – killed or saved an industry by introducing a new product? Did Google Base kill Craiglist or the online classifieds industry as a whole? Did the introduction of Google Reader lead to the demise of commercial feed readers? Did Google Orkut revolutionize how we network socially online and how social networks are monetized?
I’m calling for some perspective on this. While Google Fast Flip is a nice product, particularly on mobile in my opinion, it has its flaws and it’s not revolutionary any way you look at it. That’s fine, because it’s a Google Labs experiment, so remember that. If you’re looking for a reason why the newspaper industry is in trouble, divert your attention from Fast Flip and look at its historical business models, decreasing ad revenues and the way the Internet has changed and continues to change people’s content consumption behavior.
And please realize that one single company is never going to have much control over whatever is going to happen to the newspaper industry, one way or the other.
(Picture credit: cc Alain Bachellier / Flickr)