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John Battelle: 'Traditional Media Are Fearful of Google and Yahoo'
The co-founding editor of Wired and founder of The Industry Standard argues that print as the medium for news delivery is "passing." That's why he's launching a blog service company.

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 10/04/05

John Battelle, a co-founder of Wired magazine and founder of the now-defunct Industry Standard, is the author of a new book, "The Search," exploring how Internet search technology is impacting media, marketing and society.

Battelle is quite busy these days, promoting his book, updating his daily blog, chairing this week's Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, and preparing to launch a blog company called Federating Media Publishing.

I Want Media: Is Google a media company?

John Battelle: Without question. I define a media company as a company that creates experiences for consumers, and Google does that every day. Also, a media company is often defined by the kind of revenue it collects, and nearly 100% of Google's revenue is advertising.

I wouldn't say Google is only a media company, but I would say Google is a very media-driven business.

IWM: Yahoo is hiring journalists and developing television programming. Is Yahoo a media company?

Battelle: Absolutely. Yahoo is also a technology company, a software services company, a Web hosting company. But if you, again, look at the lion's share of their revenues, it's advertising. The asset that they have is the attention of the people who come to their site. And that is, to me, a media business.

IWM: How is search technology impacting traditional media?

Battelle: Search has created a new attachment point for marketing. Marketers are used to the idea of attaching their messaging to content. For example, if you want to speak to women age 34 to 54, you need to buy your media and attach it to, say, "Oprah." This is how magazines work, this is how television and radio work, this is how most Web sites work.

Search has created something that I call "intent attached marketing." You're not buying content attachment, you're buying attachment to the intent as declared by a consumer. So if I'm interested in a Chrysler minivan, I go to Google and enter "Chrysler minivan. The sponsored link at the top of the search results page is And on the right-hand side are top Chrysler prices from CarPriceSecrets and CarMax, among other sites.

The point here is that I declare my intent into this engine, and the engine then organizes content for me. But the marketing is not attached to the content; the marketing is driven by the intent. It's a shift in how marketing works. And it's making publishers very nervous.

IWM: Should traditional media companies be fearful of search? cover

Battelle: Traditional media are fearful of Google and Yahoo right now. They don't know what to make of them. The business model is very different.

The media industry's approach to content is driven by creating a thing -- a book, a magazine, a television show. And then we attach advertising to that thing and sell it like a packaged good. But search blows that up and disaggregates content from thingness.

IWM: Do you see the possibility of Google hooking up with a traditional media company? News Corp. is said to be interested in buying a portal site.

Battelle: It's more than likely that Google will partner deeply with lots of traditional, content-driven companies. It's less likely in the near term that Google will become a content company itself. It's just not in Google's DNA.

IWM: So you don't think we'll see a Google-News Corp., like an AOL-Time Warner?

Battelle: I don't think it makes a hell of a lot of sense right now.

IWM: Is Google News, the news aggregation service, a friend or foe of mainstream news outlets?

Battelle: Anything that gets your stuff read and paid attention to is good for you. I don't think it's well understood how certain stories in Google News get ranked, and that causes confusion and suspicion among some publishers. But Google News is a huge friend.

IWM: Would you ever consider launching another magazine like The Industry Standard?

Battelle: I wouldn't rule it out. But it's not something that makes a lot of sense right now. To do a national newsweekly is a $10 million dollar proposition, at least, with a lot of risk. And if you look at how information is being consumed -- particularly by the audience that The Standard would draw -- it's being consumed online, in RSS readers, in e-mail, in blogs.

I think there's a huge opportunity to serve that exact audience in new ways outside of the magazine form. That's why the next business I'm doing is involved in blogging.

IWM: Is print media on its way out?

Battelle: No, I wouldn't say that print media is on its way out, and I've been saying this since we launched Wired in '92. I would say, however, that it better be very well justified if it is going to exist.

Print is an extraordinarily important, wonderful medium. But I think we've seen the passing of print as the medium of news delivery. There are plenty of examples where print was the best we could do because it's all we had. But the online medium is better.

IWM: Are newspapers better off online?

Battelle: The essence of what makes a great newspaper has nothing to do with paper. It has to do with being a great community voice, reporting a story very well, and gaining the trust of your audience and your marketers.

The real question is: Are we going to have a transport system that's going to allow people to carry news around with them wherever they go the way paper does? That's the one thing about paper that really trumps other media.

We've all seen "Minority Report." The devices that are shown in that film I think are realistic over the next 20 years. It's basically the Web displayed on a flat panel device that folds -- a lightweight, low power, flat panel. That idea has been around forever. That device will help save newspapers.

People are reading on the Internet. That's where the action is. That's where the advertising is going to go.

IWM: You're starting a new company: Federated Media Publishing. What's it about?

Battelle: As I was writing my book and writing a blog on the same subject, I noticed that the audience on my site was growing very, very quickly -- to the point where it was the size of a decent-sized trade publication.

And I thought to myself: How can one person with no marketing and a hosting bill of $200 a month draw 100,000 people at one time? In the magazine world, building a circulation like that would cost $1 million, if not more. I started looking around and saw that a lot of other people were building these similar kinds of sites.

So you've got the author, you've got the audience, you've got a robust conversation between them. But you don't have the marketing. So I dreamt up a company that federates high quality sites that we feel have really good conversations and authority in their particular spaces. We're taking them as a group and offering their inventory through a platform that we're developing to marketers.

IWM: Is Federated Media an advertising network for blogs?

Battelle: It's not just an advertising network. It's sort of a mash up of a number of models that we've seen in the media world. One of them is that we're sort of like a William Morris, an agency. We're also sort of like a record label, except that we don't own the intellectual property of the artists. The artists own the intellectual property. We are simply their partners.

Our initial federation is going to be in the digital culture technology area, with probably 20 or so blogs, including Boing Boing. We're looking to have something that we can talk about within a month or so.

IWM: Can blogs be a stand-alone business?

Battelle: I certainly believe so. Not for everyone, though. Blog is a very broad term. I'm just trying to carve out this one little part of the world that I think can be profitable and interesting. I'm not trying to wave my hands in the middle of the street and claim that the world is changing and if you don't get on this bus you've missed it.

IWM: News Corp. is said to be looking to acquire more Internet companies. Do you think they would consider buying a blog business?

Battelle: In the MySpace acquisition they already did, if you think about it. So, yes is my short answer.

IWM: Getting back to Google, their famous motto is: "Don't Be Evil." But as Google continues to rack up accusations of stepping on copyrights and swiping ad dollars from other media, how can it prevent taking on the image of "doing evil"?

Battelle: That motto will slowly sink into the ocean of history. As Jeff Bezos once told me, and I put in the book, of course you should strive not to do evil. No company is going to have a motto "Be Evil."

IWM: Actually, that's the motto of I Want Media. [laughter]

Battelle: What they were trying to say with "Don't Be Evil" is: Don't fall into the trap of doing things the way most large corporations do them simply because that's how they do them. I don't think they anticipated it was going to become a length of rope that might hang them, because the concept of evil is quite subjective, obviously. The standard is simply not scaleable.

IWM: And is Google scaleable?

Battelle: Without question.




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