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Google boss tells newspapers he feels their pain

'Charge readers, not me'

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Not content with being the CEO of an ad-selling, phone-punting, operating-system-developing, online-apps-hosting, tablet-designing, and search-providing megacorp, Eric Schmidt apparently believes he's also a newspaper publisher.

"We're all in this together," Schmidt was quoted by the Associated Press as having told the ink-stained wretches gathered at the annual conference of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), aka the NewsNow: 2010 Ideas Summit, in Washington DC.

Grouping himself with the worthies who actually gather and publish the news, and not merely aggregate it as does Google, Schmidt said: "We have a business model problem. We don't have a news problem."

Google, of course, doesn't have a business model problem when it comes to providing online news - it lets actual reporters working for actual news services do the legwork, then publishes links to those stories on its Google news site.

Free content - not a bad business model, and one that News Corp's Rupert Murdoch just last week referred to as "a river of gold" in remarks at the National Press Club in Washington DC. Murdoch was blunt in his criticism of aggregation: "I think they ought to stop it, that the newspapers ought to stand up and let them do their own reporting."

By "them," Murdoch was referring to Google and Microsoft's Bing.

But Schmidt's relationship with ASNE's members isn't entirely parasitical - he did bestow upon them some free advice. According to the AP, he recommended that news publishers "reach out" to their readers by focusing on mobile devices such as the iPad and Kindle. Oh, and on Android-based phones.

News publishers, Schmidt said, should be able to remain viable through a combination of advertising and subscriptions - the latter, perhaps, based on the "we'll let you in free, but just for a taste" model used by the Financial Times and currently being readied by The New York Times.

The AP also reported that although Schmidt said that Google would help to bring such models to fruition, his promise was bereft of specifics.

Schmidt was equally advisory and equally vague when he spoke at last year's ASNE conference. At that gathering said: "It's obvious to me that the majority of the circulation of a newspaper should be online, rather than printed. There should be five times, 10 times more circulation because there's no distribution cost."

But at that gathering he also offered no specifics as to how news organizations might pay for the gathering, analyzing, writing, and editing of news, nor about how Google be of assistance.

Actual news-gatherers will understandably hope that any Google support will be more successful than Living Stories, an experiment in real-time news-mongering that Mountain View launched in December 2009 with The New York Times and The Washington Post. Living Stories was abandoned open sourced in February 2010, and a check of its website today shows the most recent stories to have been "Updated 2 months ago." ®

Bootnote

Mountain View's position on old-school news distribution was symbolically summed up in its February 2009 choice of location for a proposed Finnish data center. The site? A defunct paper mill.

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