Newsprint has a future – Google exec

Google's Peter Barron

Newspapers won’t die out, but publishers need to recognise that they are in the journalism business, not the newsprint business, and must embrace a range of news delivery vehicles.

That’s the view of Peter Barron, Google’s director of external affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Barron is in SA this week to talk to editors and publishers about how they can work more closely with Google News, the company’s news aggregator.

“Print is just one aspect of the newspaper publishing industry,” Barron says. “The Internet has proven to be a big challenge to the traditional print model [because readers] are accessing content in different ways.”

But, he says, it would be “foolish to predict the death of print”.

“We’ve seen time and again how new technologies have come along and been hugely disruptive, but things never play out as you might imagine,” he says. “You do see examples, including in SA, where newspapers are managing to add readership, even during this period.”

He believes newsprint will still play a role. On weekdays, consumers may prefer to receive bite-sized news chunks on their phones, but on Sundays they may still opt to consume newspapers. On the Underground subway system in London, newspapers remain popular, in part because wireless coverage is spotty, he says.

“There’s no question the Internet has disrupted the traditional way people consume news, and the newspaper industry is responding to that challenge in a big way, but I don’t think print will cease to exist anytime soon.”

Barron says Google is keen to support publishers as they develop new business models online. The company has faced criticism in the past, including from News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, for the way Google News scrapes news from the world’s news sources.

But Barron says Google News sends more than 1bn clicks to publishers every month and insists the company is keen to help publish publishers rather than profiting at their expense.

“We acknowledge that publishers have found it difficult to come up with sustainable business models, but we want to work with the broader publishing industry to find the right models,” he says.

Google recently introduced OnePass, a monetisation platform using its Checkout service, giving publishers “granular control” over how they monetise their content. Neither OnePass nor Checkout is available in SA yet, but Barron says the services should eventually reach local shores.

Before joining Google, Barron was editor of BBC2’s Newsnight programme. He worked in TV news and current affairs for nearly 20 years.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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