Indian language publishers have rushed in to join Google's Indian language Internet Alliance, little realizing that it is not an alliance but a Googly.
Indian language newspaper had a small but decisive advantage in the digital world-because of the information that they had they could be destination sites. What this means isa digital denizen would actually go to the site, search for news and remain there for some time. This was possible because they were the only ones who had information of what was happening in tier-2 and tier 3 cities. Now, Google has found a way of destroying their biggest edge.
Indian Language Internet Alliance is nothing but a way for Google to trawl, catalog and open up these sites. This might look attractive in the short run as Google promises the world, more visitors, and more advertising money. But in the long run it makes a commodity of these sites, as they become feeders for the global search engine, they lose their captive power, their readers slowly move away. The Indian language Internet Alliance is a way for Google to get into Indian language sites and wean away their customers.
What will happen once this content is available? Google will be able to translate it in any language and make it available through its search engine. It will destroy the core business model of these newspaper companies which is based on a large army of journalists in every city and district. Once the content is available on search and can be translated, it will be picked up by smaller hyperlocal sites. Till now these hyperlocal sites did not have ready-made solutionsfor it. Now they have it with Google translation.
Google has destroyed the digital model for newspapers worldwide, it has done the same for India's English language newspapers. The only way some of them have been able to keep their sites alive is by blocking Google's bots and by putting a large part of their content behind paywalls. Indian language newspapers can't even think about paywalls as they know their consumer will never pay for them. They hardly pay for their newspapers, how will they get them to pay for digital content?
The only way Facebook has been able to protect itself from Google is by making its site totally immune to the onslaught of Google bots. Instead of learning from Facebook,Indian language newspapers are going and committing the same mistake which has already decimated the western newspaper industry. Google may promise the sun, moon and the stars to the alliance members, but they must look at Google as another competitor. Google is a media company that earns its revenues from advertising, the same advertisers who currently are on these newspapers site or in the newspaper.
Once Google has access to their content and their websites, it may even promise placing advertising on these sites. This is an attractive proposition but these companies will then reduce their sales staff on the digital side, as Google promises to sell their inventory. Their customers like aneducation institution in Kanpur, a jeweler in Madurai, a builder in Ujjain, a sweets shop in Chennai would have earlier gone directly to these sites but now they will go to Google as it would give them a much better proposition.
The biggest challenge will come when Google starts integrating this content with Google maps and other mobile offerings. Google maps is already available in Indian languages. What will happen when it is integrated with local content ? It will be a killer app!.
A mobile user will not only be able to search for the local jeweler or its location but also see local content. This may give traffic to some sites, but it will kill them from getting advertising. Indian newspapers will realize that it is not traffic that is important, but advertising. Traffic through search engines will already come monetized.
Most Indian newspapers derive bulk of their advertising not from national advertisers but local entities. These advertisers do not have any other option in the digital form but to rely on these sites. What Google will do over a period of time is create a smarter, digital alternative for these advertisers. It is ironical that Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Information and broadcasting chose to inaugurate this alliance. I would assume that the role of the I&B ministry would be strengthen the Indian language media landscape, as it brings diversity to the conversation. Javadekar, who understands media and digital much better than any politician thought that this is a contribution from Google towards Digital India. It is not, it is a well orchestrated move that has played out in several countries to break the hegemony over content.
Several countries and even newspapers have realized the way Google works.
As suits against Google have become widespread, German newspapers are fighting with Google to get paid for ads using their content but have not been very successful. European Union has filed several cases of anti-trust against Google. The Digital chief of EU has publicly lambasted while we are thinking they are here to help Digital India.
Most Indian language publishers do not even understand the leviathan that they are partnering with as as Google is bigger than the magazine and newspaper industry. How can any alliance with such a big corporate work in the interest of minnows. In 2012, Google's revenues surpassed that of the declining newspaper industry in US prompting headlines that Google has eaten the newspaper industry.
Can't Indian Language media publishers be a little smart and learn from the rest of the world and level the playing field?
This is the beginning of the digital end for Indian language newspaper, Google has even launched a website www.hindiweb.com linking up all the digital assets of these newspapers. Will Google make this site the default entry for all Indian language newspapers? Google is also skirting on the wrong side of the law here, because now it has moved into content directly. It is hosting content on this website taken for free from Indian language newspapers, and blogs in hindi. Therefore, now the same laws of defamation and use of content should apply to Google as is applicableunder section 66 IT Act. Google and several other companies have been shying away from the application of the laws under various loop holes.
Years later when Indian language newspaper become feeders for a global search engine and their archives get embedded in the vast server farms of Google's data center, they will remember the day when it started. They day they all decided to be part of an 'alliance' under the holy guise of bringing more people on the internet.
Yatish Rajawat is a senior journalist based in Delhi, he tweets @yatishrajawat.
Updated Date: Nov 03, 2014 18:48 PM