Well, it seems like this is one of those persistent rumors, although tracking down an actual source of said rumor is difficult. Even Google’s C.E.O. was questioned about it:
[Question:] The New York Times is under pressure to sell. Blogs are abuzz with the idea that Google ought to buy it, because it’s in your interest to keep the quality of journalism high.
[Answer:] I’m not aware of a proposal for us to buy the New York Times, but I’d never rule anything out. So far, we’ve stayed away from buying content. One of the general rules we’ve had is “Don’t own the content; partner with your content company.” First, it’s not our area of expertise. But the more strategic answer is that we’d be picking winners. We’d be disenfranchising a potential new entrant. Our principle is providing all the world’s information.
Now, a few good points are raised. Clearly, as we all realize, the fate of newspapers is a hot topic for debate, partially (mostly?) because it’s a media meta-issue. But, I would claim, there are reasons such a deal could make sense…
1. Google can begin to take a much more integrated path to advertising. Already Google has begun to integrate offline media into it’s suite of products it gives out to track a site’s effectiveness… Now, if Google had an outlet to cross sell print ads and help an end user optimize advertising campaigns across T.V., the Web, and print media … well, sounds like a game changer, no? After that all that’s left are integrating radio, billboards, and maybe skywriting …
2. The New York Times is currently a content creator that distributes its own content. But does it need to be? First of all, the NY Times owns lots of different properties, so their ability to distribute is beyond one print newspaper. Indeed The New York Times itself seems to have the right thoughts as far as leveraging it’s online presence. This seems to show in their results. For example, from their annual report …
The Times Company was the 10th largest presence on the Web, with 48.7 million unique visitors in December 2007, up approximately 10% from December 2006. Last year the Company generated a total of $330 million in digital revenues, up 20%, or 22% excluding the additional week in 2006. Digital revenues now account for more than 10% of our total revenues compared with 8% in 2006.
Think about how many companies are deciding, now, whether to put advertising dollars to work with the New York Times or with Google… eliminate the decision! Now some of the $42 billion in print advertising dollars doesn’t have to lose effectiveness as circulation drops, it merely becomes more mobile. The chunk that is going to the New York Times (which has approximately $3 billion in revenue) now goes to Google (and who wants to bet it also grows in size?). Furthermore, Google can easily take a great brand and content creation machine and de-couple it from its historical outlet, namely, dead trees. Dow Jones distributes its content, the one who shall not be named generates content for distribution, so why couldn’t Google open up distribution of the New York Times’ content? It could–as a matter of fact the New York Times does this already, with the New York Times Syndicate. I could find no evidence of the syndication effort contributing significantly to the bottom line in the NYT SEC filings nor in their annual report–seems like this effort could be strengthened as well.
3. The New York Times’ ability to distribute content is a great complement to what Google already offers. Have you ever read the New York Times’ own Open, a blog dedicated to coding done inside the Times? Clearly the Times has a massive infrastructure dedicated to personalization, pushing news out into the world, and solving a number of other technological hurdles. Could Google, perhaps, add a full suite of online publishing applications to it’s Google Apps product? I bet.
4. Google owning the New York Times is good for news and journalism. When you have a deep-pocketed owner whose content distribution business focuses on turning out a quality product, it’s better than having shareholders who focus on being profitable. The problem with a newspaper is that it’s business is the newspaper business–it’s not the core business of the New York Times to sell it’s content and drive up the circulation of the papers with which it competes for subscriptions. If Google, with it’s massive online businesses, can drive it’s profit up by 10% (for one year), when added to the annual profits of the New York Times itself, the acquisition has paid for itself (assuming no premium to the market price). This certainly seems doable, given Google’s phenominal growth so far–and once the synergies begin accelerating Google’s own growth, why tinker with the paper?
So, for all these reasons, it seems like Google can jump into the content creation business the right way. With acquiring a strong web presence, getting a “hook” into other advertising avenues on a massive scale, and even adding to their core competencies, Google is uniquely positioned to modernize how the market thinks about the value of newspaper companies. Indeed, in doing all of this, Google can even advance it’s “Do no evil” motto by supporting pure journalism. All-in-all, the combination of these things seems to be a good case to be made by Google for purchasing the New York Times.