Marissa Mayer On Recent Google Innovations and Newspapers

In the most-awaited session of the afternoon of Day 1 at LeWeb, Michael Arrington (from TechCrunch) sat down with Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products and User Experience at Google to discuss a series of hot topics like recent Google innovations, mobile and the newspaper industry.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 1

On recent innovations:

  • Mayer says Google is focused on future of search and they expect different modality of search, not just through keywords. That’s why they launched Google Goggles this week which is basically image recognition (you take a picture and Google tells you what it is). See this example. They also expanded voice search to Japanese and added the “What’s nearby” mobile functionality. Mayer thinks that people will eventually talk to their phone or take a picture to make a search. They also added real-time results (from Twitter, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) to regular search results, which drastically increases the relevancy of Google search results.
  • On Google Chrome, she mentioned the release of Chrome Extensions which allows anyone to add functionalities via plugins in the Chrome browser (like Firefox). She said there are “tens of millions of Chrome users”.
  • On Google Wave, Arrington stated “there’s something there” but wondered if we needed more “training”. I think most people are unsure of the value of Wave today and that’s why the Techcrunch founder asked the question.

On mobile searches:

  • Mayer says they’ve grown tremendously on smart phones. Asked by Arrington if their total share of mobile searches over total searches was in the 1 to 5% range, she answered “slightly higher than that”.

Marissa Mayer Google Michael Arrington Techcrunch LeWeb Paris December 2009 - 2

On newspapers:

  • Arrington started by saying we all understand the dire situation of print media and mentioned Eric Schmidt recent vision piece in the Wall Street Journal. He then asked Mayer: “What’s your vision?”. The VP from Google answered with a question: “how do you get users more engaged with news online?” She continued by stating that if we could build a news site from scratch today, it would probably look very different than what we have today. She then mentioned The Living Stories experiment they’re doing with the New York Times and the Washington Post. “What if the story was alive? Not just the print version posted online.” She added that the Web “puts pressure on the atomic unit of consumption. The article is the atomic unit.” She then suggested we could aggregate all news story on the same topic on one page, like Wikipedia, to help with discovery in Google.
  • She closed that topic by suggesting “personalized stream of news”, probably on your mobile phone, would be interesting. The stream would be filtered according to your social circle, location, the news brands you like, the writers you like, and the important news you should know about (she called them “veggies”).
  • Asked if newspapers will move fast enough, she thought so and mentioned the New York Times and Washington Post are very progressive partners and very interested on how they can reinvent themselves.
  • On Murdoch, Mayer mentioned the partnership with MySpace. Asked if she thought News Corp would pull their content from Google, she answered “I hope not” as it would impact comprehensiveness of their results set. She added “we have to respect the content owners. We would respect his will.”
  • Finally, Arrington asked if Google would consider paying for content, Marissa Mayer proposed that they already have programs for content monetization through Google Adsense and their display ads network.

See more on Techcrunch.

Twitter Business Model: Shopping?

Friday’s New York Times analyzes a quote from one of the VCs that has invested in Twitter. We learn that shopping and e-commerce might play an important in monetizing the social network’s product recommendation traffic:

Someday, when you ask your Twitter followers to recommend the most comfortable running shoe or the best digital camera, you might be able to go one step further and buy the product on the Twitter site.

E-commerce, including links to products and turnkey payment mechanisms, is a likely revenue stream for Twitter, said Todd Chaffee, a Twitter board observer and general partner at Institutional Venture Partners, which has invested in Twitter. (…)

Many companies are already on Twitter, monitoring what customers say about them and offering discounts and promotions to their followers. And many people use Twitter to ask for recommendations, like which type of gadget to buy or which movie to see. Since Twitter is already becoming one of the best shopping resources, Mr. Chaffee said, why not enable people to make purchases from the site as well?

“Commerce-based search businesses monetize extremely well, and if someone says, ‘What treadmill should I buy?’ you as the treadmill company want to be there,” Mr. Chaffee said. “As people use Twitter to get trusted recommendations from friends and followers on what to buy, e-commerce navigation and payments will certainly play a role in Twitter monetization.”

(seen in Mashable)

What it means: for Twitter, everything points in the direction of word-of-mouth monetization through shopping. E-commerce is a low hanging fruit given the strong existing affiliate program eco-system on the Web but the natural extension for Twitter will be local merchants (including services). And what is the equivalent of e-commerce affiliate programs for local? Possibly request-for-proposals and pay-per-call.

Update (June 22, 2009): Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO, replied to the New York Times article and, according to ReadWriteWeb said “To be clear: Todd is a Twitter investor and a very smart and helpful guy. However, he is not actually on Twitter’s board and, in this article, he’s brainstorming on his own. These are not in the least bit concrete plans of the company.” I’m still convinced they will go in that direction. It’s a completely natural evolution, whether they want it or not… 🙂

If interested, follow me on Twitter at @sebprovencher

Analysis: "The New York Times Company Reports 2009 First-Quarter Results"

“The New York Times Company Reports 2009 First-Quarter Results” via Yahoo! Finance.

Internet businesses include NYTimes.com, About.com, Boston.com and other Company Web sites. Total Internet revenues decreased 5.6 percent to $78.2 million from $82.9 million and Internet advertising revenues declined 6.1 percent to $67.6 million from $72.0 million. Internet advertising revenues at the News Media Group decreased 8.0 percent to $42.2 million from $45.8 million. In total, Internet businesses accounted for 12.8 percent of the Company’s revenues compared with 11.1 percent in the 2008 first quarter.

In addition, The New York Times Company had the 13th largest presence on the Web, with 52.3 million unique visitors in the United States in March 2009 according to Nielsen Online, up about 4 percent from 50.4 million unique visitors in March 2008. Also according to Nielsen Online, NYTimes.com had 20.1 million unique visitors in March 2009 versus 18.9 million in March 2008, up about 7 percent, and was the No. 1 newspaper Web site in the United States, a position it has long held.

What it means: the excerpt above shows online results from the New York Times Co.  Traffic is still growing but revenues are going down, clearly impacted by the tough US ad market. I suspect the online display ad market is not doing so well. Overall advertising revenues at the group are down 27%, lead by a drop of 45% of classifieds revenues.

New York Times Company Q4 Results: Classifieds and Display Ads Revenues are Down

Before I talk about the New York Times Company results, a quick note. As we plunge deeper into a recession, online and offline media companies are impacted but it’s difficult to tell what will be the overall impact of this economic slowdown.  Since last week, I’ve started discussing quarterly conference calls from media companies in this blog as I feel this is where we can extract the most valuable information in the short term (and I’m a bit tired of Techcrunch covering every little new Twitter application out there…  ) Hope you like this direction!

Now, back to the NYT Q4 results unveiled yesterday (transcript at Seeking Alpha).  Here are some interesting insights from Janet Robinson, President and CEO and Martin Nisenholtz, Senior Vice President, Digital Operations

On advertising revenues:

The NYT saw “a weakening of revenues as the economy declined and advertisers pulled back on placements.” (…) “Total revenues for the company declined 10.8%, with ad revenues down 17.6%”

“Classified advertising declined in all three major categories; real estates, recruitment and automotive.” (…) “Half of the declines are attributable to one category across the company and that’s help-wanted, so it’s a very targeted decline.”

On circulation revenues:

The continued strength of our brand was evident in the willingness of our readers to pay higher prices for our newspapers, which in turn is reflected in the growth of our circulation revenues.” Circulation revenues were up 3.7%

On digital revenues:

“Digital revenues decreased in the quarter, as online marketers reduced display ads in response to deteriorating business conditions.” (…) “For the year, our online ad revenues at the News Media Group grew 8.7% with NYTimes.com significantly outpacing the industry in the growth of its display advertising.” (..) “At the About Group, total revenues decreased 2.9% to $29.8 million, as display advertising softened. Cost-per-click advertising rose in the mid single-digits.” (…) “In total, internet businesses accounted for 12% of the company’s revenues in the fourth quarter versus 11% in the 2007 fourth quarter.”

On display ads:

“The notion that we’re seeing or we have seen an increasing amount of inventory on the marketplace and we’ve seen that pouring on for the last year or so through the social networks and through other what I would call, non-traditional content companies. And then the second thing that has happened this year has been the real onslaught of the advertising network business. There are over 300 ad networks in the space now. And so, the combination of those two things has put some pressure on rate.”

On the future:

“To-date in January, the greatest decline in print advertising has accelerated from what we saw in December, while that of digital is similar to last month.”

What it means: classifieds and display ads revenues seem to be very soft in this economy.  Cost-per-click seems to be holding (we saw the same insight from the Yahoo Q4 call). Online might be holding its own better than print. The increase in circulation revenues makes me think relevant content from trusted brands is still key.

Highlights from Kelsey’s Drilling Down 2008: The Kelsey Team Intro and the Latimes.com Strategy

Very interesting first half-day yesterday at the Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down on Local ’08. The theme of the conference is “Marketplaces”. It regroups products such as classifieds, auctions and vertical sites. Here are highlights from the first two sessions:

As an introduction, the Kelsey Group’s team provided us with some background information on “Marketplaces”. Neal Polachek first described the local end game as “better search, discovery, and engagement”. He even quoted the Cluetrain Manifesto’s “Markets are conversation”. He also talked about their latest global ad revenue forecast for 2007-2012, stating that the biggest category winner would be Internet and the biggest loser would be newspapers. As I wrote last week, the Kelsey group believes that Verticals will capture a large chunk of online advertising by 2012. Matt Booth then talked about three specific verticals (travel, automotive, home services) that have had a tremendous impact on offline/online business and media spending. For example, Matt showed two juxtaposed graphs showing the decline of newspapers’ automotive revenues vs. Autotrader.com’s revenue increase. Peter Krasilovsky finished the intro by stating that it’s now time to “uncouple” print and online media bundles. As print revenues decline, you need to have online-only ad products to compensate. Peter added that you also want to “verticalize” your offer to expand your revenues.

Kelsey Drilling Down 08 Neal Polachek

The second session “Remaking the Los Angeles Times (Online)” starred Rob Barrett, Senior VP of Interactive Media, GM, LATimes.com. He started by mentioning that most of what he’s currently working on is not very visible online now. He spent the first couple of years at the LA Times refocusing the online business. His main focus has been to build the display ad business (as opposed to classifieds). It’s going to generate $25M in revenues this year. Barrett says it’s now “time to finally break the newspaper paradigm online”. The LA Times’ online strategy needs to be local as opposed to national as it will allow them to differentiate their offer versus other “national” newspapers like the New York Times. They’ve realized that local users are key to online revenues as they generate more monthly page views and twice the display revenue per page views. Their product approach is “we want to own Los Angeles”, i.e. be integral to life of Angelinos, be the source of news and information about Los Angeles to the world and be an information retailer by creating, aggregating and curating LA content.

Los Angeles Times - News from Los Angeles, California and the World

The Latimes.com web site is slowly transforming itself into a hyperlocal social network. All content pieces are going to be tagged and indexed by category and geography. By targeting on demographics and on geo, the LA Times is hoping to raise their average CPMs and improve ad effectiveness. They are creating the best targeting machine for the LA DNA. Barrett then showed us pilots of various new vertical sections that are very promising:

On Atomizing Your Business Model: The Newspaper Industry

Continuing our series on the atomization of content and business models, today I look at the newspaper industry.

First, from the user point of view: online (vs. the print version), it’s much more difficult to find the glue that will make your news container (your URL) stick together. if you have a strong brand (the New York Times, for example), people will navigate directly to your site but readers can now access your content via RSS readers, blog posts and news aggregators like Google News. These have been flourishing, reorganizing newspapers’ articles (the new content atoms), into flexible reading formats. For newspapers, it’s a catch-22. You want to be indexed by news aggregators to drive traffic back to your site but you wonder if you’re losing brand equity at the same time. Efforts at trying to get readers to register to newspapers’ sites (to generate potentially valuable socio-demographics information) have been a major failure. Clearly, the only strategy now is building a strong brand online while allowing readers to access your atomized content via a variety of vehicles but that creates problems from a monetization point of view.

Traditionally, the newspaper business model has been found in these three revenue categories: reader subscriptions, traditional display advertising and classifieds. Except for a few exceptions (the Wall Street Journal comes to mind), experiments in paid online user subscriptions have been failures as digital content is much more difficult to sell as an aggregate than print content. Classified revenues are being nuked by free sites like Craigslist or Kijiji, or aggregators like Oodle. Newspapers have been also forced to offer free classifieds, managing to generate some priority placement /enhanced content revenues but not to the previous print level. Online display advertising is working but it does not monetize as well as print advertising.

To better monetize their destination site, newspapers have been looking at various new solutions. One is in-line text ads (double-underlined sponsored keyword ads appearing directly in the article text) delivered by companies like Vibrant Media but, as I mentioned yesterday, the blurring of the line between editorial and advertising content has created ethical issues within news organizations. Already in 2006, in an article called “Is It News…or Is It an Ad?”, the Wall Street Journal exposed the various issues around the product:

“This type of online advertising within the text of an article, known as in-text advertising, has been around for a while. But it used to be relegated to niche sites like the videogamers’ haven IGN.com and ScienceDaily.com. Now it is appearing on some mainstream journalistic Web sites, like those of News Corp.’s Fox News, Cox Enterprises Inc.’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Hearst Corp.’s Popular Mechanics magazine. That marks a departure from a long-observed tradition in the print medium of keeping editorial content separate from advertising. “Journalism ethics counselors decry the trend. “It’s ethically problematic at the least and potentially quite corrosive of journalistic quality and credibility,” says Bob Steele, the senior ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla.”

More recently, Tim McGuire from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Arizona wrote about its use in the Arizona Central web site:

Michael Coleman, Vice-President of Digital Media for AzCentral, told me late Friday that the site has been using Vibrant Media for “two or three weeks.” Coleman described the relationship as a test and said this is not a “Gannett roll-out” of the concept even though some Gannet papers are using the system. “We’ve got a pretty non-committal contract with them, Coleman said. “The publisher made the call, and we decided to try it and see what happened.” Coleman said the experimental aspect of the deal explains why nobody has announced this deal.

Business Week wrote about the phenomenon in December:

Many journalists believe that selling the words in a story blurs the line between editorial and ad content. Some worry it creates an incentive to insert ad-linked words or order up certain types of stories. Forbes’ online arm caused a ruckus in 2004 when it rolled out in-text ads. After an outcry among the editorial staff and negative media coverage, Forbes ended the practice. (…)

Publishers are paid by Vibrant and other marketing companies based on how many times readers scroll over a word. Advertisers only pay Vibrant for how many times a reader actually clicks on an ad. In-text ads draw a higher response than traditional Web ads: About 0.2% of Web users click on posterlike ads known as banners; Vibrant CEO Douglas Stevenson says 3% to 10% scroll over and click on in-text ads, depending on the category.

I think the use of in-line text ads might be problematic thus far because newspapers have been using the technology to better monetize their destination site. I would suggest that the better use of this new ad vehicle would be to monetize a smaller atom of content, i.e. the news article, decentralized from the destination site. Embedding in-line text ads within RSS feeds or other distribution mechanisms might be a small price to pay to allow readers to access news article outside of the newspaper’s site. Another option would be to have RSS ads, like the Feedburner Ad Network.

I think the general takeaway here is that newspapers shouldn’t look at the same business models to monetize centralized and atomized content.

Update: The Kelsey Group discussesNewspaper Next 2.0, a “progress report” by the American Press Institute on the evolution of newspaper companies beyond the print edition.” I took a quick glance at it (it’s a 110-page document) but it does not seem to address many of the business model issues that newspapers are facing. As my friend Peter K. says in the post, “The report has a better fix on consumer-oriented solutions than business solutions. But that’s not surprising for a newspaper industry (i.e. editorial-driven) product. If the Yellow Pages Association commissioned similar research, it would probably be the other way around.”

Canpages Leverages Blog to Increase Brand Awareness

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to moderate a social media panel at the Infopresse conference on social networking. Sitting on my panel was Guillaume Bouchard from NVI, a Montreal-based SEO/SMO firm. He explained to the crowd of more than 280 people how, by using social media tools, he manages to generate brand awareness and increase the online street cred of Canpages, a Canadian directory company competing against Yellow Pages Group in Canada.

It starts with the creation of original and quirky content in the Canpages blog. His team then seeds that content in the various social news sites like Digg and Reddit. Working with a large network of friends and contacts, he’s able to catch the eye of online influencers who might (or might not) promote that piece of original content.

Canpages blog Weird Canadian Restaurants

His best success so far with Canpages has been this blog post about “Weird Canadian Restaurants”. It was submitted to Digg and generated 676 diggs and 101 comments. It was promoted to the first page of the site and generated good traffic (he did not disclose how much) for the Canpages blog. It was also favorited by people in StumbleUpon, another social tool that has the reputation of driving a lot of traffic. The post was well enough crafted to be picked up by Dan Mitchell from the New York Times, which generated some more traffic to the Canpages blog.

Canpages Digg Weird Canadian Restaurants

What it means: a great use (and a great understanding) of social media tools and sites to build a new directory brand and make it more exciting for “cool kids”. This is also a great strategy to build new incoming links to your domain, thereby increasing your page rank in Google. You’ve got to wonder though if there are long-lasting positive effects from both a brand equity and online directory site usage but I don’t think it hurts given the runner-up position they occupy in the market.