Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Google Goes for Newspaper Archives: Elbowing in on Pay-Per-View and Subscription Database Models?

AP notes along with others the announcement that Google plans to extend its print archives scanning program to include the print archives of any newspaper that would like to participate in their program. This new effort builds upon Google's existing scanning efforts to capture books and other materials in the archives of major libraries. Early participants in the newspaper scanning program include Montreal, Quebec's Chronicle-Telegraph, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. Regional newspapers are struggling to find sources of revenue for their print assets what will offset plummeting print ad income, so the prospect of exposing their archives for revenues from Google's AdWords and to benefit from referral links to their subscription signup pages is found money for assets that are otherwise sound asleep in most library collections.

Unlike previous arrangements for newspaper archives, which were arranged based on access to subscription or pay-per-view databases or limited access to "snippets" of copyrighted content, the newspaper scanning program's direct parallels with the Google Books program means that people will be able to benefit both from the literal image of a newspaper as it existed at the time but also from text-based searching of those news sources. The differences in approaches are clear and somewhat startling when you compare the scan-based approach to other approaches. For example, a Google News search for "Man Walks on Moon" in the Google News 1969 archives, for example, yields dozens of pay-per-view articles on the topic, but eventually one can look at an ad-supported article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that captures not only the words but also the flavor of graphics, editorial cartoons and other features that were of importance in the era of the early space program, with key search terms highlighted in the scanned text image.

For larger media organizations this approach may not be as appealing as waiting for the "big fish" of pay-per-view and subscription database revenues, but for regional and local newspapers this is likely a very attractive alternative to microfiche collections which are expensive to create and will have relatively low-volume, one-time sales, versus the evergreen potential for revenues from online scanned archives. This alternative to microfiche and subscription databases also puts pressure on suppliers such as ProQuest and Cengage to justify the breadth of their archives as a key selling point. AdWords revenues will not be the answer for every publisher's need to monetize archives but it appears that Google has found another way to add value to hard-to-find content sources that challenges publishers to think more creatively about how they intend to add value to the delivery of their archived content.
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