Google vs. Publishers: Who’s Right?

    November 2, 2012
    Chris Crum

The story is old, but it is ongoing. It’s the same argument that’s been around for years, but it’s reaching a boiling point, and it’s doing so at a time when the flow of news is coming from more directions than it ever has before. Hurricane Sandy is just the latest in a long line of examples proving that point. Publishers want Google to pay them for the right to point to their content, and Google does not wish to do so.

Should Google have to pay to link to content in Google News? Tell us what you think.

The battle continues in Europe. This week, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt met with French President François Hollande, who according to a report from Bloomberg BusinessWeek (in an article that I did not find by using Google News), “demanded Google reach a deal with publishers”.

Google responded to the French point of view even before Schmidt’s meeting. Here’s what the company said in a blog post a couple weeks ago:

The web has led to an explosion of content creation, by both professional and citizen journalists. So it’s not a secret that we think a law like the one proposed in France and Germany would be very damaging to the internet. We have said so publicly for three years.

Google’s point about the “explosion of content creation” is very valid. Google has been pretty consistent in that it will not pay publishers to link to their content in search results. The question is whether Google users will noticeably suffer if Google stops including content from certain publishers.

This is currently being put to the test in Brazil, where 90% of the country’s newspaper circulation has pulled its content out of Google News. The publishers seem to be getting by fine without Google News (they haven’t pulled out of Google Web Search). The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reported that these publishers have only seen a decrease in web traffic of 5%. Isabela Fraga and Natalia Mazotte report:

“The (newspapers) themselves believed that the 5-percent loss was a price worth paying to defend our authors’ rights and our brands,” said Ricardo Pedreira, ANJ’s executive director in a phone interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

“The fact is, Google News is absolutely irrelevant in Brazil,” said Carlos Müller, ANJ’s communications advisor. “If you go into Google News now and search for (Brazil’s) President Dilma, you’re going to see that none of the websites of the main newspapers in the country are there.”

“It’s important to point out,” he added, “that the portals of some news companies are still (in Google News).”

That doesn’t mean, however that publications everywhere could get by as well without Google News. The Bloomberg article quotes Ricardo Pedreira, executive director of Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers, as saying, “Every country has a specific reality, and I think there will probably evolve different models in each nation.”

Google is already facing turbulence in Germany and Italy, in addition to France, so we may very well see publications pulling out of Google News in these countries as Google refuses to pay. Google has made the point in the past, that without said publications, users would be able to find information from other sources.

In September, Google revealed that Google News is currently available in 72 editions in 30 languages, and counts 50,000 publications among its news sources.

“Linking to a diverse set of sources for any given story enabled readers to easily access different perspectives and genres of content,” Google said recounting the product’s history. “By featuring opposing viewpoints in the same display block, people were encouraged to hear arguments on both sides of an issue and gain a more balanced perspective.”

If publishers pull out, they face having their viewpoint lost from users’ view. However, that certainly does not mean that they will not be able to reach audiences via different means, thanks in some part to that explosion of content Google refers to.

Social media has rapidly emerged as a major source of news consumption in recent years. People don’t have to rely on Google News (or search in general) as much as they might have in the past. People have news driven to them via Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other channels all day, every day, right to the phones in their pockets.

In a recent article, I made the case that Google is even risking pushing more news seekers to Twitter specifically thanks to its lack of real time search. Twitter is the place to go if you want to find up to the second updates about anything, like say, a hurricane.

While Google has certainly offered some valuable resources related to Hurricane Sandy, it wasn’t Google that all of the journalism articles were talking about over the past week, with regards to how the news was coming out. There was a lot more talk about Twitter and Instagram (pictures from which were often surfaced via Twitter).

Sure, Google News has continued to serve its general purpose, but the news, as it often does, was breaking on Twitter. Google’s right. There’s an explosion of content, and that’s not going to change. People will find ways to get their news with or without publications in Google News (many of these same publications will be easily found via social media).

So who needs who more? Google or publishers? Google will want to make sure it has enough quality sources in its results, but it is unlikely that they will have to pay many publishers to do so, because thousands simply want to be discoverable in Google, and are happy to be there without demanding fees. Google does have an agreement with the AP for hosted content, and it’s possible that Google could look to plug any potential holes with similar arrangements, but it’s unlikely that Google will submit to such deals with a sizable number of publications. They simply don’t need all of that content that badly. Do they?

Well, I would say no they don’t, to be a useful service. Readers can get by without a lot of the sources currently in Google News. But, on the other hand, losing a significant amount of publications would also be a continued failure at Google’s mission, which is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. It seems that this mission is not worth paying publishers as far as Google is concerned.

What would you do if Google News lost 90% of newspaper publications in your country? Would you miss them? How would you consume your news? How do you consume it now? Let us know in the comments.