Google is a publishing company

After years of claiming that it most definitely is not a publishing company, yesterday Google announced that it is going to be a publishing company after all. 

Google logoThe company is launching a new tool called “Knol” (in private beta). With it, Google’s “goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it,” said Udi Manber, Google’s VP of Engineering in a blog post about the new project. From all accounts, Knol will eventually work something like Wikipedia. Google will provide a technology platform that will allow authors to contribute content. If the author decides to make some money on the entry, Google will split the advertising revenue.

Google didn’t come right out and say that it’s becoming a publishing company; in fact, it seems to be taking pains to try to prove that it isn’t one. Manber was careful to include this bit in his post:

“Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write.”

Does Google think that this means that they aren’t becoming a publisher? They aren’t convincing me.

The business model with publishing companies is that they have a group of writers (staff writers or freelance writers, it doesn’t really matter) who write content for the publishers. The publishers then have the ability to sell advertising around that content to monetize it, and often pay the writers for their efforts. Google may argue that it isn’t writing the content, and that it is leaving ownership of the content with the authors, but Google is in essence paying writers to contribute content to a giant database of information – that Google will own. And monetize. And Google is incentivizing writers by offering a revenue split. This looks like publishing to me. As Duncan Riley from TechCrunch writes, “Google is moving away from simply indexing the worlds content to being a content provider itself.”

Aside from the content/publisher issue, there is also a potentially tricky conflict having to do with Knol content showing up in Google’s “independent” search results. As Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land put it: “Does hosting content turn it into a competitor with other content providers and set up an unfair advantage in gaining traffic that might otherwise flow to them?”

I am not surprised by this move by Google. But I think it’s now time for Google execs to give up their claim that Google is not a publishing company. Claims like these:

June 12, 2006 – Eric Schmidt, Google founder - LA Times article

“It’s better to think of Google as a technology company. Google is run by three computer scientists, and Google is an innovator in technology in our space. We’re in the advertising business — 99% of our revenue is advertising-related. But that doesn’t make us a media company. We don’t do our own content. We get you to someone else’s content faster.” (emphasis mine)

May 15, 2007 – Marissa Mayer, Google VP – at the 41st Annual Carlos Kelly McClatchy Memorial Symposium “Pressing Times: Can Newspapers Survive in the New World of Journalism” at Stanford  

“We’re computer scientists; we’re not journalists. For us, it’s really about partnering with content providers and ultimately finding distribution and monetization channels for them.”

And this article about the same event:

Mayer didn’t add anything more than confirm that Google is not a publishing company, but aggregating, data mining and filtering of information.

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