Friday, March 4, 2011

Google: Searching for the new economy

Far from stealing content, Google offers invaluable support for content creators, writes Matt Brittin.

Dream School: Jamie Oliver and his celebrity teachers, with their unruly pupils.

A highlight of my week was watching the first episode of Jamie’s Dream School,a programme on Channel 4 which puts disillusioned children together with famous experts to try to re-engage them with education. As well as being a great piece of television, it’s something we have been closely involved in.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, is paying for a scholarship fund for these children, and is also running an initiative called “Dream Teachers” to find the nation’s most inspirational teachers and help them spread their expertise through video teaching plans.

Why does this matter? It’s because this is yet another illustration of the value that the Internet creates by connecting people with each other, and with information that was previously hard to find. Whether the mother who researches symptoms and realises that her daughter has a life-threatening illness, or the small business based in Macclesfield selling tights that can find online customers across the world, these are important connections that without the Internet – or often Google – would not have been made.

This value is not just social: the UK’s Internet economy is now worth £100bn per year. This is substantial enough, and important enough to businesses up and down the country, not to be ignored.

Against this backdrop, it’s hard to stomach Jeremy Warner’s business column on Thursday, which fell into the trap of focusing on the disruption the Internet causes to traditional industries, but utterly ignoring the new British businesses it enables. It’s true that the Internet is a disruptor, but in a good way.

Almost overnight, the Internet has emerged as a key driver of economic growth, generating billions of pounds in economic activity, creating millions of jobs across the UK and Europe, and offering unprecedented opportunities for business growth. The UK is the world leader in e-commerce – aided by the likes of Google – and this is an opportunity we should be celebrating.

I also want to address head-on the accusation that Google is a “kleptomaniac”.

Far from stealing content, Google offers invaluable support for content creators. We provide tools that make it possible for anyone to publish, find an audience and – should their content prove popular – to make money.

Far from being a “parasite”, we deliver the lifeblood of audiences. For instance, every month, we send about 4 billion clicks to news websites – that is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue. If news publishers do not want to participate, they can easily opt out either across the board or article-by-article. We don't charge anything for delivering this traffic, and publishers can monetise it however they wish. That’s certainly not stealing, it’s free distribution that in the physical world would never be possible at that scale. And it is valued by the thousands of publishers around the world who choose to show their content in this way.

Which brings me to another misapprehension about Google – the notion that we are lobbying for all content to be free. That is simply not true.

Google offers tools to help publishers make money from their content however they wish. If they enrol in Adsense, we help them earn money from advertising. If they want to charge website visitors directly, we offer One Pass – giving them freedom to select what content they charge for, at what price, and how – daypass, one time access, subscription and so on.

We are agnostic about what business model or models content owners pursue – we just hope to help them find things which work for them. Because, contrary to the accusation that “Google grows by destroying others”, we make money only when somebody else makes more money.

Businesses will only pay to advertise on Google if it is profitable for them to do so, and when we share revenue with content owners, they always get the lion’s share.

The biggest disappointment about Jeremy’s column, though, was that it purported to address the government’s review of intellectual property law. In fact, Friday’s Daily Telegraph published a letter to the editor from twenty-four organisations backing the call for copyright reform. Google was one signatory, but so was the British Library, Consumer Focus, and organisations that represent British technology start-ups. This is an issue that cuts across industries, and matters to a very broad swathe of people.

Google’s business is to provide searchers with directions to high quality and relevant online content. We know this is what Internet users want – and it’s also what content owners want as well. We’re on the same side, and ill-informed tirades to the contrary are a hindrance to the industry’s common cause.

Matt Brittin is managing director of Google UK and Ireland.

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