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Google's Distribution Advantage Has Its Limits

Scott Karp has an insightful (and provocatively titled) piece over on the Publishing 2.0 blog about just how deeply Google has inserted itself in Web distribution of content. While much of the piece is about linking, one paragraph in particular is worth calling out for traditional publishers (emphasis added):

If media companies want to compete with Google, they need to look at the source of its power — judging good content, which enables Google to be the most efficient and effective distributor of content. They also need to look at Google’s fundamental limitation — its judgment is dependent on OTHER people expressing their judgment of content in the form of links. Above all, they need to look at sources of content judgment that Google currently can’t access, because they are not yet expressed as links on the web.

“Content judgment” is a neat way to put it, reinforcing that when there’s already more than 1 trillion web pages in Google’s index value is shifting away from more content toward better filtering and curating of what’s already there. (Or as Clay Shirky says, it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.) While many publishers fret about customers no longer paying for content, they may miss the boat by not realizing that customers will pay for packaging and convenience (which often means judgment and filtering). For example, at the same time the market for our printed reference books has declined, our Safari online subscription service has steadily grown at a double-digit pace, in part because those subscribers value the implicit filtering of the library.

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  • bowerbird

    andrew said:
    > subscribers value the implicit filtering of the library.

    i’m sure some do.

    today.

    this year.

    tomorrow? maybe.

    next year? maybe not.

    before long? certainly not.

    “implicit” filtering will mean very little, if anything at all,
    once collaborative filtering establishes its rightful place.

    specifically, if the collaborative filter says a book stinks,
    it won’t matter what the “implicit” filtering says about it.

    now, perhaps you don’t think that publishers like yourself
    need to fret that, since you know your books don’t stink…
    maybe you’re even thinking you will _benefit_ from that,
    since then both filters will be recommending your book…

    but that thinking ignores the more important dynamic…

    if the collaborative filter says that a book is _worthy_,
    its “implicit” filtering for that book will be meaningless.

    indeed, even if the book has _zero_ “implicit” filtering
    – i.e., doesn’t have some fancy publisher’s imprint –
    that’s irrelevant, since you know the book _is_ worthy,
    because it was rated that way by people _just_like_you._

    this means that the author of a _worthy_ book will not
    benefit from any “implicit” filtering, and thus will not be
    willing to trade anything of value in order to obtain it…

    (and won’t suffer from that decision in the marketplace.)

    but, of course, if an author isn’t willing to trade enough
    so that you can pay you a salary, you’ll not be interested.

    will you?

    in other words, you will run out of authors simultaneously
    with the world being over-run with content just like yours,
    much of it available for free, and just as findable as yours…

    and this is how dinosaurs go extinct in the age of mammals.

    -bowerbird