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Google reaches out to print media with its Fast Flip service

Firm says the article browser being tested could give publishers a

September 16, 2009|Alex Pham

Google Inc., which has been likened to "parasites" and "tapeworms" by editors who resent the company's efforts to aggregate news on the Web, has offered an olive branch to publishers of newspapers and magazines.

The Mountain View, Calif., Internet search engine giant said this week that it was testing a new service dubbed Fast Flip in which readers can rapidly browse articles much like flipping through physical magazine or newspaper pages.

Fast Flip serves up screen shots of the Web pages containing relevant articles, cropped to show just the story and the publication's nameplate. Although typical news Web pages can take several seconds to load, Fast Flip is designed to respond almost instantly, replicating the feel of a magazine.

The articles are organized by what's popular among all readers that day, and by each reader's personal preferences. Readers can refer the articles to their friends, or "like" an article, much the same way they Digg articles. If a reader wants to go beyond the first screen to read the full article, a click takes the person to the publisher's website.

"We wanted to bring the advantages of print media, the speed and hands-on control you get with a newspaper or magazine, and combine that with the technical advantages of the Internet," said Krishna Bharat, who created Google News.

Google said Fast Flip offers publishers a potential additional revenue stream.

To make money, Google serves up contextual ads around the screen shots, agreeing to share "the bulk" of the revenue it receives from displaying ads on Fast Flip's pages.

About three dozen traditional print publishers have signed on, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Business Week, Newsweek, the Center for Investigative Reporting and National Geographic. Publishers of online-only content have also joined, including Salon and TechCrunch. (Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, is not among the participants.)

The fledgling project is part of a broader effort by Google to help newspapers broaden the size of their audience, increase reader engagement and help monetize online content, Bharat said.

It's also a way for Google to answer its critics, including Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Thomson, who called the search company and other news aggregators such as Yahoo Inc. "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet."

The criticism underscores frustration among newspapers and magazines facing a precipitous plunge in revenue as readers flock online to read content free of charge.

Several efforts are underway to address the issue, including a proposal by News Corp. to build a consortium of newspapers that would charge its online readers. Another project, Steve Brill's Journalism Online, is seeking to develop the technology for collecting fees from readers. Brill's effort has attracted more than 500 newspapers.


Times staff writer Dawn C. Chmielewski contributed to this report.

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