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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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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