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I haven't exactly been a big fan of YouTube (and its parent, Google) but there are signs it is moving in the right direction.
On Tuesday, Google announced on the YouTube blog that it would be adding "click-to-buy" links on the pages of videos owned by the site's partners.
These links enable users to purchase content related to the videos they watch via iTunes and Amazon.com, and finally takes YouTube down the path that other online media destinations such as IMEEM have already gone down.
According to YouTube's blog post:
"This is just the beginning of building a broad, viable eCommerce platform for users and partners on YouTube. Our vision is to help partners across all industries -- from music, to film, to print, to TV -- offer useful and relevant products to a large, yet targeted audience, and generate additional revenue from their content on YouTube beyond the advertising we serve against their videos."
Whether this announcement was driven by Google's urgent mission to monetize YouTube or by its realization that it was in its best interests to deal more amicably with content owners, one thing is clear - Google is starting to take the right approach.
While it remains to be seen just how much business YouTube will actually drive for iTunes and Amazon.com and how much revenue it will generate for itself and its partners, the bigger implication is that Google seems to recognize that ecommerce may be just as important to YouTube as brand advertising is.
Selling brand advertising has been a challenge for Google because of YouTube's vast library of user-generated content - content that is not very attractive to many, if not most, advertisers.
Given economic conditions, over-reliance on brand advertising is a risky proposition for any online business.
YouTube's "click-to-buy" links potentially do two things:
- Serve as a simple first-step for a much-needed ecommerce strategy.
- Provide another means of monetization that doesn't require Google to fight the perceptions brand advertisers have when it comes to user-generated content.
In the future, I believe YouTube would be wise to experiment with its own ecommerce platform like it once offered with the seemingly forgotten Google Video.
By enabling its partners to sell content directly on YouTube, Google would not only be able to provide a more seamless user experience that minimizes the number of users that it has to send off to Apple and Amazon.com, it would be able to retain a greater share of the revenues.
While the margins from on-property video sales would still probably be quite low, given YouTube's audience, there's no reason Google shouldn't leverage the YouTube platform to its fullest.
The question, of course, is whether Google will. One of my biggest criticisms of the company is its passive approach to its non-search products, which I believe has been a major contributor to the fact that most of its products outside of search are relative "failures."
Google's culture is engineering-driven. The company believes that computers can solve most problems and that technology-based solutions are superior.
Yet YouTube appears to be forcing Google to take a different approach because YouTube is, after all, a media property. For Google to take full advantage of YouTube and to keep online services like Hulu from taking advantage of the void Google didn't move to fill, Google needs to be proactive and it will need to go beyond simple "click-to-buy" links.
That said, this new initiative is the latest sign that Google may be getting its act together on YouTube. At the very least, it has finally implemented a "no brainer" that catches it up to the rest of the market. That's certainly a positive thing.