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The Death of Google News Archive

Google just announced that it will stop its historic newspaper archive project. This is a sad day as the Google news archive was an important source of information for genealogists wanting to trace their ancestors. The project had already scanned roughly 2,000 historic newspapers from around the world. Some of the scanned newspapers were particularly valuable because they were from less developed countries that lacked traditional genealogical records.

Fortunately, the Google news archive is not going away, at least not for the moment. According to a Google spokesperson "users can continue to search digitized newspapers at news.google.com/archivesearch, but we don't plan to introduce any further features or functionality to the Google News Archives and we are no longer accepting new microfilm or digital files for processing".

What Killed Google News Archive?

It appears that two things lead to Google’s decision to cease work on their news archive: complaints from large newspaper publishers and Apple’s iPad drawing too many publishers to the Apple platform.

The irony of newspaper publishers exerting pressure to shut down a newspaper archive is just too rich since newspaper readership has been steadily falling over the last several years (see Why Are Newspapers Dying?). When the British Museum announced plans in 2010 to digitize its historic newspaper collection, the Murdoch news organization complained bitterly about the project and tried to get it shut down. Clearly others had also complained to Google through lawsuits and other means about the company’s attempt to organize the world’s information through historic newspaper archives and other approaches. The weight of these complaints must have been felt by Google.

Apple’s attempt to ring fence newspaper publishers on their platform has also clearly alarmed Google. The sad reality for genealogists is that there is simply much more money to be made from selling current news that trying to sell access to historic archived newspapers. Google will now shift its resources to their current news platform, dubbed One Pass.

What Happens to Google News Archive Now?

This is not the first time that Google has killed off a product. The term used in the industry is called ‘sunsetting’. It works something like this:

- An announcement is made that no new content will be added to the product and that no new features or functionality will be introduced. Google has already done this.

- Staff working on the product will be deployed to other areas.

- The product will be allowed to age. A typical aging period is 12 to 24 months. During this time, internet traffic to the product usually falls.

- After the aging period, the company will do a full cost/benefit analysis. The benefit is basically the ad revenue that is generated by users accessing the product. The cost is the cost of maintaining the massive database of over 2,000 historic newspapers.

- If the benefit exceeds the cost, the company will probably just hold onto the product and treat it like any other long-term revenue stream.

- If the cost exceeds the benefit, the company will look to sell the product to someone else. Alternatively, it will just simply shut it down. This is the possibility that should make genealogists nervous.

What are the Alternatives to Google News Archive?

Fortunately, most major governments are involved in digitizing historic newspapers. The Chronicling America project from the US Library of Congress and the Trove project from the National Library of Australia are two prominent examples. Both are excellent resources for genealogists and incidentally both of these massive databases can be conveniently searched using our free genealogy search engine.

In the long term, we should see more historic newspaper content going online. In the short term, however, with the elimination of such a large player in the space it is likely that the rapid rate of digitization that genealogists have come to expect over the last couple of years will slow somewhat, especially for historic newspapers.

The genealogists who will get the real short end of the stick from Google’s announcement will be those who were searching for ancestors in less developed countries, such as the Philippines. The Google News Archive was one of the few viable online sources of historic information that could be used to trace ancestors.

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