Did Google Just Create The Future Of Print?

250px-Time_Enough_at_LastSay what you will about Google destroying newspapers and infringing on literary copyrights, they have just come up with a genius idea. Actually it’s two ideas. Wired reports that Google has taken it upon themselves to scan more than 2 million books that have fallen out of copyright and now are considered public domain, and have made them publicly searchable online. Not only that, they are making it possible for interested readers to print them. From the article:

And now Google Book Search, in partnership with On Demand Books, is letting readers turn those digital copies back into paper copies, individually printed by bookstores around the world.

Or at least by those booksellers that have ordered its $100,000 Espresso Book Machine, which cranks out a 300 page gray-scale book with a color cover in about 4 minutes, at a cost to the bookstore of about $3 for materials

Wired points out that the interest in these old books is surprisingly high and as such there is serious money to be made from this venture in niche markets. But more than that. One imagines that in many ways this is the future of publishing, both of books and newspapers. The publishing world is currently staggering under the high overhead cost of printing (and returning unpurchased books). What if instead of printing a specific amount of copies beforehand, books were printed on demand? You go to a Barnes and Noble, find the book you want and voila! Four minutes later it’s ready for you. This would also allow for the sale of back catalogs and out-of-print texts that publishers can’t afford to publish in large quantities.

And what about newspapers? It’s not hard to imagine that at some point a smaller home sized version of Google’s “expresso book machine” may be made available. What if, instead of subscribing to the print version of a paper, you were able to pay a smaller sum to print the parts you wanted for yourself? It would save enormously on the sort of costs all types of publishing are trying to cut down on. Maybe Google had to kill print before it could save it.

How to Make Money With Web Video: Books and DVDs

old jews telling jokesEric  Spiegelman has a Web video hit on his hands. “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” a series of short clips featuring exactly what the name suggests, is popular, viral and cheap to make.

Alas, it’s not profitable. Spiegelman says he spends considerably less than $1,000 for each one-minute episode, and the 50 episodes he’s made so far have generated some four million views since February. But advertising for the series, sold via Web video distributor blip.tv, doesn’t cover his costs.

Spiegelman is pretty sanguine about this, but I find it a bit frustrating. We’re several years into the Web video era–almost three years after Google (GOOG) bought YouTube–and this is the kind of stuff that should work by now. It’s original, ad-friendly, and made on a shoestring budget. If that can’t work, what will?

In any case, Spiegelman can afford to wait a bit for things to right themselves. His company, Jetpack Media, is a unit of indie movie studio Greenstreet Films, so he has a bit of a cushion while he figures out how to crack the code.

And in the meantime, he’s hedging his bets by using his Web series as a way to get back into old media, where you can actually get paid for stuff you make, in advance.

Spiegelman has repackaged the first season of his clips into DVD form, which will be sold by First Run Features (you can pre-order the first disc for $19.95).

Next up: A book deal with Bertelsmann’s Random House, via its Villard imprint, with photos from Gawker contributor Nikola Tamindzic (anyone who follows the blog-to-book minimarket will not be surprised to learn that ICM agent Kate Lee brokered the deal).

And Spiegelman can imagine other ancillary products down the line. Perhaps an audio show based on jokes that people submit via a hotline. Use your imagination. Which I guess is what you have to do if you want to make a living making Web video in 2009.

Oh, the videos themselves? They’re a lot of fun. You may have heard of a few of the joke-tellers–former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is a contributor/performer, as is real estate mogul Harry Macklowe–but the rest are fairly anonymous types who have a way with a story and a punch line. Below, a quick interview I taped with Spiegelman last week, and below that, a few of the joke-tellers themselves (Warning! These feature a couple of judiciously chosen curses).

Content Doesn’t Matter Without the Package

In response to the launch of Google’s Fast Flip, I observed that Google is correctly focused on creating a new user interface for news, when most media companies are not. A lot of people responded that Fast Flip is not an innovative or effective UI for news — which may be true, but that misses the point entirely.

It doesn’t matter so much whether Google succeeds or fails with this particular experiment. What matters is that they are trying to solve the right problem.

The challenge for media companies is not to figure out what to do with their content — content in and of itself doesn’t matter. It never has.

It’s all about the package.

Newspaper articles don’t matter without a newspaper. Magazine articles don’t matter without a magazine. TV shows don’t matter without a broadcast or cable channel.

Newspapers’ inability to generate the same revenue online as in print has nothing to do with content. It’s because on the web they are no longer in the business of packaging content, and that’s what the newspaper business, like every other media business, has always been about. Instead, media companies put their content on the web and let search and other aggregators package it.

An individual content item on the web, without a package, has marginal value approaching zero — and attempting to charge for an individual item of content is unlikely to change that. What you CAN charge for is the package.

Media companies need to be doing what Google is doing — experimenting with new ways to package content, which in a digital media world means new UIs and new ways to aggregate.

The nature of innovation is that many experiments will fail along the way. The key is to be aimed at solving the right problem.

Focus on the package. Whoever controls the package wins.

Ask newspapers. Or Google.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Fast Flip, lots of people overlooked one of the key words in the product name — FAST. Why does fast matter? How long does it take to get a result when you search on Google? Not long at all. In fact it’s darn FAST. (You can even see how long your Google search took in the blue bar across the top of the search results page.)

That’s why it matters — to the tune of $20 billion.  Here’s Marissa Mayer on the importance of being fast. Google has the most successful UI and content package in the history of the web, that created one of the most lucrative business models in the history of media, so don’t write them off too quickly.

Twitter Goes for Broke, if Broke Means “A Lot of Money”: New Funding Round at $1 Billion Valuation

twitter williams and stoneIs Twitter a billion-dollar company? It is now, according to its investors. People familiar with the company tell me it has raised around $50 million in a funding round that values the start-up, which has no real revenue to speak of, at about $1 billion.

TechCrunch, which first reported the funding, says CEO Evan Williams informed his employees about the new deal at a recent companywide meeting. I’m told the round is all but finished: “If the money isn’t in the bank yet, it will be soon,” a source tells me.

No word on who has invested in the company in this go-round, but it’s almost certain Twitter was able to entice new backers to join its existing investors: Silicon Valley logic dictates that each successive funding round should attract new money.

In February, Twitter raised approximately $35 million in a round led by Benchmark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners that valued it at $250 million.

And just to spell this out–Twitter’s new investors, along with older investors who have reupped, believe the company will ultimately be worth much more than $1 billion. In order to get a return on their money, they will expect it to hit $3 billion or more.

Feel free to debate the merits of Twitter’s growth prospects, and its chances of creating a real business out of all of those 140 character messages its users create.

But in retrospect, this funding round seems obvious: Twitter’s founders have insisted that they want to build the company on their own instead of selling it to the likes of a Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT), and they’ve already turned down Facebook. And if they weren’t going to sell, raising yet more money to give the company time and resources to build out a real business is the logical choice.

Here are Williams and co-founder Biz Stone talking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D: All Things Digital conference in May. Discussion of the company’s future as a standalone business kicks in around the 31-minute mark.

Rumor Mill Swirls: Google-Brightcove Tie-Up

Well, this is just about the most lightly sourced thing we would ever post on, but according to a Tweet by Mark Glaser at PBS’ MediaShift, Google could be in talks to acquire Brightcove for $500 to $700 million. We’re looking into it.

Brightcove’s official comment: “Brightcove doesn’t comment on rumors.”

Cambridge, Mass.-based Brightcove is the brand name in the video platform business. It has raised $90 million in funding from investors including Accel Partners, General Catalyst Partners, AOL, Allen & Company, Maverick Capital, Brookside Capital, AllianceBernstein, The New York Times Company, Transcosmos, Dentsu, J-Stream and Cyber Communications. It says it is profitable.

Dan Rayburn is already doing good deal analysis here.

Another AOL Org Chart Shuffle: COO Partoll, Search Boss Kannapell Out

kim partollThis isn’t the long-rumored round of mass layoffs, but AOL boss Tim Armstrong did let go of two executives today: COO Kim Partoll is out, as is John Kannapell, SVP of search and local media.

Armstrong, who took over the Time Warner (TWX) unit earlier this year and is prepping it for a spinoff that’s supposed to happen by the end of 2009, doesn’t plan on replacing either executive, say people familiar with the matter. Instead, their work will be divvied up among other Armstrong lieutenants.

Partoll’s mobile responsibilities, for instance, will be given to new hire and former Yahoo (YHOO) exec Brad Garlinghouse, while Kannapell’s responsibilities will be handed to newish hire and former Google (GOOG) exec Jeff Levick. Armstrong himself will handle international duties, previously assigned to Partoll.

Kannapell’s departure isn’t a total shock, since he was listed as “acting head” of local during a reorg that Armstrong oversaw in June. But Partoll is a head-scratcher, since she was promoted to her new/old position during that same exec shuffle.

And what about those layoffs? Armstrong is almost certain to make some cuts at some point–and has told employees as much. But people familiar with the company say he hasn’t been focused on cost structure (i.e., cuts) until recently.

Viacom and Google Fight in Court, but Work Together to Keep Kanye West Off of YouTube

video music award taylor swiftYes, Viacom is still suing Google for  a billion dollars, because it says too many of its videos showed up on YouTube. But that doesn’t mean Viacom and Google (GOOG) can’t work together to prevent the cable giant’s videos from showing up on YouTube.

Want to see this in action? Go to YouTube and try to find a clip of the Kanye West/Taylor Swift/Beyoncé incident from Sunday night’s Video Music Awards. Everyone’s still talking about it (I don’t know why, really, but I guess I’m out of the demo), but if you want to watch it on YouTube, you’re stuck watching shaky, grainy footage created when people film their TV sets with a camcorder.

That’s the result of Viacom (VIA) and YouTube using the site’s Content ID system–which YouTube installed after Viacom filed suit more than two years ago. Content ID allows YouTube to track copyrighted material on the site as long as the copyright owner tells it what to look for.

It’s not a plug-and-play solution: On Sunday, Viacom had to have staff work through the night to provide YouTube with “reference files” from the live show so that the Google’s video service could find the offending clips and take them down.

But it worked pretty well. Decent-quality clips of the Kanye incident were taken down fairly quickly, and the grainy shots had only generated some 700,000 views by Monday afternoon, according to video-tracker TubeMogul. Meanwhile, MTV’s official version was approaching two million views (it’s now above three million).

You could argue that both Google and MTV would be better served if the official clip was on YouTube. And one day, that might happen. But first, they have to settle their court case.

That looks less likely today than it did a week ago, by the way, because of the recent ruling in the Universal Music/Veoh case. Team Viacom says the case, which appears to be quite similar to its own, won’t have any bearing on the how the company proceeds, while the YouTube guys see it as an affirmation of their position. Translation: More legal back and forth and fewer Viacom clips on the world’s biggest video site.

Here’s one of the low-fi versions, by the way. Not recommended if you’re prone to motion sickness: