Google "Fast-Flips" News Media Into 21st Century

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 11:26 AM EDT

Just as I was posting about Google's many recent product upgrades and tools for publishers, the search giant one-upped me by announcing an even bigger story -- that it will for the first time start sharing revenues with its news partners via its new Fast Flip interface.

Fast Flip addresses one of the industry's biggest online problems, and that is reading newspaper sites is a drag. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal websites, to cite three examples, all take too long to load, and recently they've all gotten even slower.

This has to do with various page elements, including images, many of which are ads that slow down the page-load time, regardless of what kind of computer you are on, or the speed of your Internet connection. If you try to read an article, you have to wait until the page is fully loaded, with all of those blinking, heavy ad units, before you can even begin to scroll.

It has been enough on occasion for this reader (and I suspect others) to simply abandon the effort altogether.

The publishers might have addressed this problem themselves but they've apparently been too busy trying to save their print editions to devote enough resources to optimizing their websites. So Google is doing it for them.

(BTW, my Bnet Technology colleague, Erik Sherman, believes that Google is the only company that could have pulled this off.)

Fast Flip aggregates content from 40 participating news organizations, organizes them by five tabs -- Recent, Popular, Most Viewed, Recommended, and Headlines. If you click on a page, you've instantly got it in an easy-to-read/browse/share format that leaves every one of the 40 partnering news websites in the dust -- from the all-important usability standpoint.

Google officially calls this an experiment. The 40 organizations include a mix of non-profits, magazines, and a few big newspapers. According to Nieman Journalism Lab, these are the partners:

BBC News, Billboard, BusinessWeek, Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, Christian Science Monitor, CosmoGirl, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Esquire, Fast Company, FRONTLINE, Foreign Policy, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, Men's Journal, National Geographic, National Review Online, New York Times, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, ProPublica, Quick & Simple, Redbook, SPIN, Salon, Seventeen, Slate, Smithsonian, TechCrunch, Technology Review, Teen, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The Daily Green, US Magazine, Veranda, Washington Post.
This deal has been in the works for some time (I picked up whiffs of it months ago), and right out of the gate, it looks great. The revenue share is a first for Google in the news business (Google News does not share ad revenue; instead, it drives traffic to the news organizations' websites.)

So Fast Flip is based more in the Google Book Search type of business model, where Google serves the content and shares the ad revenue 65-35 percent with authors and/or publishers and other rights holders. It would a surprise if just about everyone else in the traditional media industry doesn't try to jump aboard this fast-flipping train, since we are probably looking at the interface of choice for long-form journalistic content here going forward.

In the case of Fast Flip partners, the revenue deal works like this, according to what several participating sources told me: "The rev share is calculated based on the percentage of page views our content comprises of the total amount for Fast Flip, multiplied by the total net revenue generated by Fast Flip."
So this is an aggregation of high-quality content at a scale that has been attempted elsewhere, but never with both a high-quality UI and a solid business model. Score another one for Google. It may save the old media world yet...

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.