Google acquires media companies without becoming one

Forbes | LA Times | Wall Street Journal
Google is “unarguably a media company” following its acquisition of travel-guide publisher Frommer’s, Jeff Bercovici writes. “The travel-guide publisher is indisputably a content business, not a platform or a network or anything else more quintessentially Google-y.”

So, should the rest of The Media think of Google as one of their own? It’s complicated.

To ask what a publicly traded, profit-seeking corporation “is,” you have to ask where the bulk of its profits come from. In 2011, Google got 69 percent of its revenue from ads on its own websites (like search and YouTube), 27 percent from display ads it served on others’ websites, and less than 4 percent from everything else.

Google is buying media companies, but it is not necessarily becoming one.

Google has always been an information company. At first it was purely about organizing information that others published and making it universally accessible. More recently, Google has come to realize that in order to do that in the best possible way, it has to own some of the information.

It bought Zagat (to enhance its restaurant search results); it started Google+ (to gain more social signals for personalized search results); and now it’s buying Frommer’s to enhance travel-related search results. The L.A. Times quotes analysts who say Google “is looking to beef up its search results, create more travel tools and, most important, sell more travel ads.”

It is true, the Wall Street Journal reports, that Google “has grown fonder of professionally produced content.” But when Google scoops up a media company, it’s in the service of improving search results or advertising, not making Larry Page the next Rupert Murdoch.

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  • Anonymous

    “Google is “unarguably a media company” following its acquisition of travel-guide publisher Frommer’s, Jeff Bercovici writes…To ask what a publicly traded, profit-seeking corporation “is,” you have to ask where the bulk of its profits come from.

    Not surprising that Poynter would focus on the business side, as anyone who frequents MediaWire can attest. We get too much prattle about the business decisions and not enough about the journalism Poynter is supposed to stand for.

    How much of Google’s PROFITS come from is pretty irrelevant. By that definition, Twitter was not what it was to become when if wasn’t earning a profit. If anything, how much revenue Google invests in that side of the company might be a gauge. But even that is not it.

    A journalist might ask “what defines a media company?” and then see if Google fits the definition.
    Or, a journalist might analyze Mr. Bercovici’s arguments for why he thinks that Google is a media company and tell us where he is spot on and where his arguments are dubious.

    But, then again, a journalist might have caught the most important part of Mr. Berkovici’s article. It comes in his last sentence:
    “How long can Google be a fair arbiter of all the world’s information
    when it increasingly has information of its own that it wants to
    promote?”

    And a journalist might have then have done some research and discovered that Google ceased to be a fair arbiter of information a long time ago because it chases money first and helps people get the information they are seeking second.
    It used to be, you could do a google search for any listed number and google would do a reverse search; now you get a legion of links to companies that will tell you that information for a price.
    it used to be that if you did a search for your city’s violation bureau, you could get to it; now you have to scroll through all of the services that want you to pay them to help you.
    Google used to have the best shopping comparisons; now you are left to yourself to figure out which prices are legit and which are not.
    That’s off the top of my head

  • Brian S.

    Hmmm, it doesn’t feel like this will affect me. Then again I guess if they can bring lower prices and deals to consumers that could seriously improve the quality of life for everyone.

    Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?