There’s been plenty of buzz in the last day or two whether Google is going to mean death to tightly-focused niche publications. I think this Ad Age article misses the point, as are others who claim Google will have anything to do with the future of small publishing.
That’s because Google is a search engine, and it is limited in what it can do.
To be able to search, first you need to have an idea what you’re searching for. Looking at it from a reader’s rather than an advertiser’s viewpoint, sure, if all you’re after is new entries on a specific, defined, topic, you can subscribe to several different kinds of searches, both online in general, or just blogs, or both. This will give you results all the time, but only for the results you specify. You’ll miss a lot in a more-general field of information, and also get back a lot of junk that doesn’t apply to what you want to know about.
A niche publication is more of a browse. Those who write for publications of this kind are always on the lookout for information and ideas of interest to their readers. Not all of the good stuff is online yet; not every expert in every field has a website. It will be many years before that happens, I’m sure. Niche publications exist to alert their readers to things they didn’t know about before, and thus would not include them in any search. Not everybody has the creativity, the ability, or the time to keep 100% informed on their areas of interest. That’s why these publications exist in the first place.
As John Battelle mentioned in his Searchblog, if anything’s at risk it’s paper. That will also take a long time to be redundant. People still want hard-copy publications for a variety of reasons. I really don’t expect things like magazines and newspapers to disappear, at least not in my lifetime.