Google, Newspaper Archives, and the Business of Cultural Heritage

Google announced this month that it is ending its ambitious project to digitally archive newspapers. The project to scan the archives of the nation’s newspapers and make them available online as a searchable historical record was announced in 2008 with the level of hubris only found in online enterprises.

"Our objective is to bring all the world's historical newspaper information online,” said Adam Smith, director of product management at Google, announcing the project. Those lofty aims were echoed by Punit Soni, manager of the newspaper initiative: “As we work with more and more publishers, we'll move closer towards our goal of making those billions of pages of newsprint from around the world searchable, discoverable, and accessible online…."Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we'll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search, you'll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.”

After scanning about 60 million pages and beginning to make them available as full page shots--because costs of disaggregating and indexing were too high and copyright clearances were difficult to obtain for older material—the company announced that it will quit scanning pages, but continue offering the existing pages available on it Google News Archive site. It said it would not invest any new effort to improve indexing or add tools to better search and manage the archive.

The project may have been well-intentioned, but it was not well thought out. It was a free service designed to use the search traffic at the site to raise revenue through advertising Google would put on the site. The scale of the project was enormous and requiring finding, scanning, and indexing thousands of daily and weekly newspapers--many no longer in existence. It would require a long-term commitment of funds, personnel and server capacity to catalogue and scan the material and provide and maintain search functions. The project ultimately incorporated on a fraction of the papers it had hoped to scan, did so spottily in many cases, and its usability was poor because it never mastered the problems of handling so much content. Worse yet, it discovered that history was not a money making business.

The exit announcement is not a surprise and is another sign that players the virtual world are stopping deluding themselves that they are replacing the entire world and that the laws of economics and finance to not apply to them.

As laudable the preservation of newspaper archives might be, expecting it to be completed and maintained by a commercial firm defied sense and historical experience. For centuries, the most important historical records, books, art have been maintain in governmentally and charitably funded collections because commercial enterprises were either unwilling to bear the costs or to allow the large scale efforts required to preserve, catalogue, index, and make available cultural heritage materials distract them from their business activities.

Why would anyone expect Google to act otherwise?

As Google increasingly acts as a mature business it will increasingly shed activities that were launched as goodwill gestures because the costs of their operations reduces the company’s financial performance and will diminish the value of its stock compared to other tech firms. Over time it will be harder for the firm to maintain the stance that it is not self-interested and motivated only by the opportunities to improve the lives of the public by providing access to all the world’s information.

The tentacles of its operations that have reached out into to many fields will increasingly be pulled back if they do not yield financial results. And fears that Google will rule the world will diminish. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other big players of the digital world all have limits, just as did the handful of firms that once controlled steel, oil, and shipping through cartels. At some point even mammoth, wealthy companies do not have the resources and capabilities to keep expanding endlessly and their performance declines, leading shareholders to rein them in and competitors to find opportunities.

Hadhirgaan at #orkneyfolkfest. 20 Orkney schoolchildren fiddlers - brilliant!!

Gorgeous voice! Emily Smith at Orkney Folk Festival

Orkney boo

TwitPic - As Expected! Selling YOUR Photos

It comes as little surprise that TwitPic announced they are now licensing images that photographers transmit over the TwitPic service. They, of course, have the right to do so, and we stand by the position we first put forth when we wrote about it last year (Morel v. AFP, AFP v. Morel - Which Way Blows the Wind?, 10/5/2010).

The model continues - 'offer a free service, or a limited one, build up a critical mass of users, change (or enforce existing) terms, and then aggregate the users' content for profit and gain.'

The New York Times reported here, and Photo District News wrote both 'Time to Quit Using TwitPic?' (5/23/11) and 'Twitpic: Laundering Images of Owners’ Rights' (5/24/11) about the realities of how the "free" model is affecting your intellectual property.

South Park has a hilarious show on the issue whereby no one actually reads terms of service here, as always, taking the issue to it's absurd endgame.

This just underscores the reality that there really is NOTHING that is free. While something may appear free, you are always giving something up when you accept something for free. Time, privacy, or, in this case, your rights.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

PicScout Acquired by Getty Images

Getty Images has made an interesting acquisition in buying the PicScout image recognition service a few weeks ago, and frankly, it's a smart move. Getty Images, with millions of images, and a dwindling per image revenue stream, must find alternative revenue streams, and focusing on infringements is wise.

In 2007, when Getty was publicly traded, and had to do things like conference calls with investors, Getty CEO Jonathan Klein said "the way we see the world today quite simply, is that our core stock photography business has stopped growing, in fact, it's declining. Our number 1 priority is to stabilize that business...we're trying to stablize the core stock business, at the same time, trying continuing to grow the other businesses." (PBN - GYI's JDK: "our core stock photography business has stopped growing, in fact, it's declining.", 9/20/07). So, the new business seems to be pursuing infringements?

Also back in September of 2007, the Stock Artists Alliance released a white paper - “Infringements of Stock Images and Lost Revenues.”, that they did with....wait for it....Pic Scout, revealed some interesting figures. We wrote (God Save the Alliance, 9/07), "SAA’s study found that 9 out of 10 images they found were infringements upon RM images. That’s a lot of infringements! What’s worse, because of the low-dollar-per-image issue, it seems that tracking infringements of RF isn’t cost effective, giving infringers essentially a “license” to infringe." We also cited from the report back in 2007 "According to Selling Stock’s recent count, there are just over 1 million RM images on If we apply the 1:15 annual infringement rate observed in our study, we arrive at an estimate of approximately 67,000 infringements in a one –year period."

PicScout certainly is the industry leader when it comes to image recognition. They also are the provider of image recognition services to the PLUS Coalition's PLUS Registry, which positions not just PicScout, but also Getty Images, to lead the industry in the long term.

Frankly, all photographers would benefit from Getty being on top of their rights management, and the pursuit of infringers. The more infringers are pursued, the more they will think twice infringing, whether it's a Getty image, or that of a freelancer.
(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

Is US Exporting Climate Worse/Better Or About The Same

This blog has been in existence since February 2006 and contains important posts you do not want to miss - be sure you check out the archived posts listed by Month/Year on the lower right side navigation area and bookmark so you may reference later.

OK, to the Question for this post:

Do you think the climate for US exporting is worse/better / substantively any different than when you wrote that blog answer Jan 2009? - Here is a link to that post:
Import Export Business And The Economy

The question was sent as a follow up to an email that asked: "Your best guess on how this could affect / not Exports from the US?" -
Specter of trade war looms as G-20 nations gather

My Answer To The Follow Up Question that is the subject of this post:

Every exporting business is different. Each deals with different products, each exports to different parts of the world. Each exporting situation has been affected differently.

1. I believe it is easier today to establish yourself as an export agent or broker or to get manufacturers to deal with you than it was two years ago because US manufacturing, what's left of it, is desperate, whereas before they were fat, dumb and happy and now they are competing with India, China, Brazil, Vietnam, you name it.

2. There is a car exporter who has advertised on our site for about 3 years now. I do not recall the exact numbers but when he first started advertising the Euro was about 1.60 to the dollar and he was exporting 20-40 vehicles a month (i believe that was the number) at a markup of $1000 per vehicle or a pro-rated basis if they purchased 5 or more down to $500 a vehicle.

In February of 2009 he called me to renew his ad and asked me if I had any idea how many cars he exported the previous month - I said 5 or 10 thinking it would not be that bad and he responded ZERO/NADA/ZIP.

The market in Europe had dried up not only because of the dollar improving somewhat but the fact Europe's economy was (and is) in a shambles.

In the interim, he began getting inquiries from China. Guess what? His business with China is booming. They want both new and used "luxury" cars and because he has been an established exporter, with exposure in the marketplace, they came to him. I have not really asked him about his Europe business but I know if it has come back at all it is a fraction of what it was.

Adapting. Exposure. Doing something and not allowing the government to freeze you in place waiting for them to save you. They won't, they screwed it up and business is what will bring it back.

3. In all the years I have worked with various vitamin manufacturers (about 12-13 now) the very best "long-term" customer for any of them came from a lead I generated from our website about 15 months ago during one of the worst parts of the past 24 months in the current economy. I mention in my blog post about adapting in dealing with 'how to pay' - this customer is in Thailand and they use 5 different credit cards to pay the manufacturer - whatever works.

4. I just received an email today from another company we work with for sourcing manufacturing in China. One of the leads we sent them, I cannot disclose their name but you would definitely know it as they are a old, long time brand name in a particular industry, has sent a sample to sourcing company's office in Beijing and for review of their engineers for pricing and they are very seriously working with the company on pricing the units out.

TRADE moves on and will find a way to adapt and there is always indirect exporting, meaning you do not need to export from the USA, you can export for a manufacturer in another country.

I think there was another post I did but I cannot remember the date in which I cited the number of LARGE brand name businesses that were started during the depth of the 1930's depression which are still in business today. International trade is either in your blood or it isn't and all I can say is move forward, adjust and continue to move forward, that is all there is to it.

Have a good evening.


End of Term at the White House News Photographers Association

After two terms as President of the White House News Photographers Association, my term ends with our 90th Anniversary Gala, May 14th, 2011. It has been my pleasure to serve the members during our meetings and discussions with the White House over access issues, as well as meeting individually with many of the members to discuss how to grow their businesses. It is with great ] appreciation that I thank our Executive Director, Heidi Elswick for her service, and especially board member Jon Elswick for her continuing service to the membership.

There is much work to be done by the board in the coming year. As my tenure was wrapping up, I found my last full day as President, handling press calls that resulted in (or followed up on) articles in the Washington Post (here), Los Angeles Times (here), Politico (here), and Poynter (here), to name as few. This issue will continue, and the access (and retrictions thereof) will continue as the White House shifts into campaign mode in the coming months.

Best wishes to the incoming President, Ron Sachs, and the board as they continue to serve the members of the WHNPA, who are truly, the Eyes of History.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.