Publishers watch out for their toes as Google steps into print ad placement

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Google confirmed in late August that it was reselling print-yes, print-ad pages in Ziff Davis Media's PC Magazine and Future Network's Maximum PC. Reactions to Google's confirmation of the arrangement ranged from the subdued to the amazed but, overall, publishers seemed unfazed.

Some analysts, however, believe that the move has far-reaching implications. Charlene Li, analyst at Forrester Research, said she foresees significant implications in Google's partnership with the two computer titles.

"Their biggest asset is their huge stable of advertisers," Li said, estimating that Google's advertising base was greater than 200,000 and may be as many as 300,000. She said that if Google's experiment shows any promise, the company will not stop by partnering only with print.

"What's amazing is that no one has talked about radio or TV," Li said. "Why wouldn't they, especially with radio? It's much more direct response-oriented."

Google itself downplayed the move, presenting the arrangement as an experiment. Not surprisingly, Ziff Davis, publisher of PC Magazine, saw the move as an aid, not a menace.

Jason Young, president of Ziff Davis Internet and Consumer Tech Group, disputed the notion that the sky is falling for magazines. He said Google's experiment is proof that even the king of the Web sees print as a potential revenue generator. It's a fantastic validation of what the strength of the print market is, he said.

He added Google appeared to be no threat insofar as seizing control of any magazine, either from an editorial or advertising standpoint.

"We're talking about fractional ads in the back of the book," Young said, adding that he welcomed Google's aid in mining its large network of small advertisers and selling what he said amounted to "classified" ads. "Google has relationships with hundreds of thousands of smaller marketers that we could never serve directly ourselves," he said.

"There may be real potential in Google helping create a more efficient market for similar print advertisers," said Tolman Geffs, managing director at media investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group. "These back-of-the-book advertisers are historically expensive for magazines to sell to, and many magazines could benefit from a more efficient way to attract these ads. But I really don't think Google means much for the major brand and image-oriented magazine advertisers, who buy in a different way; and the magazine ad rep business does not have anything near the scale [of] economies that Google likes."

Ken Gazzola, exec VP-publisher of McGraw-Hill Cos. Aviation Week Group, said he didn't see Google's experiment as either a help or a hindrance regarding the specialized technical content created by AviationWeek & Space Technology and other properties in his unit. "We consider Google more of a generalist. Because we're in a highly vertical and let's say technical market, this has not come up relative to our business," Gazzola said. "We don't really see it as a threat."

Roland DeSilva agreed that b-to-b media's greatest asset is the content it creates, and Google is not likely to be in a position to create specialized content. "The playing field is changing dramatically,"said DeSilva, who is managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips. "But one thing I am sure about is that content is king, and content will be king." 

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