Unless you're in the face-mask business, it probably hasn't escaped your attention that we're in a recession. It sucks. But it's also the first economic downturn of the digital age (and for 'digital', read 'Google').

This presents media publishers with something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the current dearth of marketing budgets and disposable income means pickings are slim. On the other, publishing online offers all manner of new revenue streams unavailable to print publications. We now spend about a third of our time hooked up to the net, and this is what native business speakers like to call: 'an opportunity'.

But currently, these roads all pretty much lead to Google. This may not be a bad thing - at the Fipp World Magazine Congress in London this morning, Google UK managing director Matt Brittin claimed that in 2008 Google shared $5bn in advertising revenue with publishing partners worldwide. Them's the big bucks. And that figure isn't going to go down any time soon.

Trouble is, publishers are almost entirely reliant on Google to deliver traffic to their content, which makes the big G something of a monopoly. And Google ads are always, ALWAYS, much cheaper than advertising direct on a given site. (Google doesn't have to foot the overhead for creating the content, you see).

Put bluntly, most content providers can't compete with Google as an advertising salesman, but they can't survive on only Google ads.

Throw in the fact that established online magazines such as PC Advisor are now so thoroughly crawled and indexed by Google that you can navigate the content without ever visiting the site itself, and you can see the publishers' quandary. Can't (really) live with Google, sure as hell can't live without it.

Or, as the chief executive of India Today Group Aroon Purie said at the same World Magazine Congress session: "The digital model being followed by media in developed countries is a pretty dumb model.

"You have a monopolistic newsstand like Google putting your content out for free, competing for selling advertising with you and your digital sites."

It's an issue that, to its credit, Google recognises. Google's UK MD Brittin, again speaking a WMC, said: "We have to work on targeting and relevance to try to make online advertising more relevant and help you to make a commensurate return online as offline.

"Bearing in mind this is a 10-year-old medium, we're making some progress. But it's very much a work in progress."

Fair enough. And why should Google try to limit its own success? It's made its zillions by being better than everyone else at search, in an open market.

Ultimately, the web will find a way. Publishers need to grab users, get them to bookmark their pages and at least partially circumnavigate Google. Interactivity is key - no longer is it enough to offer up a story for the big G to promote. Instead sites must develop a loyal userbase that shapes and creates content, and acts as organic marketing collateral. They need to be flexible and inventive, and the content itself needs to be not just good, but the best.

It sounds tough because it is, but when entry to the market is so very easy, only the strongest will survive. Google does have a duty of care to web publishers, and it absolutely must share the love, but it has no moral imperative to protect the weak.

And the good news for you and I, dear reader, is that this means the best of the web should be about to get better.

All thanks to Google?