Apples and oranges on Google and publishers

Print performance is bad enough without putting a thumb on the scale

Slate tells us that “Google ad revenue tops entire US print media industry” in the first six months of the year, based off this chart from a German outfit called Statista:

Business Insider makes it its “CHART OF THE DAY” and says “Google Is Bigger Than The U.S. Print Ad Business.”

That’s (sort of) accurate, but misleading. There’s an apples-to-oranges problem here, as you may have noticed from the modifiers: It compares U.S. newspapers and magazines, which by their nature are almost entirely local industries with U.S.-only ads, with Google and its global operations.

Statista noted in its post accompanying the chart that its “comparison is obviously unfair,” which means it probably shouldn’t have made it in the first place. But at least Statista pointed out the serious flaw with its chart. Slate and Business Insider don’t bother.

It’s not hard to estimate Google’s U.S. ad revenues. Google gets 46 percent of its revenue from the U.S., which gives us a U.S. ad number of about $9.6 billion in the first six months of this year. That means Google’s U.S. ad revenue was half the $19.2 billion in print ad revenue U.S. publishers brought in.

But there’s more apples-and-oranges nonsense here: Statista tilts the scales by excluding digital ads from the publishers’ totals, which would have added roughly $3 billion in the first six months of the year. That’s like saying the publishing industry is absolutely crushing Google in advertising—if you exclude all digital and overseas advertising.

And Statista notes in an update that it used Google revenue numbers by using gross revenue, which includes money it has to pay its publisher partners, meaning that about 20 percent of Statista’s Google number isn’t really Google revenue.

See, if you don’t limit yourself to comparing things that are alike, you can have all sorts of fun with charts. The silly thing is you hardly need to put your thumb on the scale to show how Google has taken over fast-growing Internet advertising while print has collapsed.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,