/Google to pay publishers for content in its upcoming news service
Google to pay publishers for content in its upcoming news service

Google to pay publishers for content in its upcoming news service


Google Inc. plans to start paying some publishers for news content through a licensing program to be launched later this year, a move that comes amid increasing tensions between the search giant and publishers in a number of countries.
The project, announced in a blog post Thursday by Google’s vice-president of product management for news, Brad Bender, will begin with local and national publications in Germany, Australia and Brazil.
In addition to paying for “high-quality content,” Google says it will offer to pay to give users access to “paywalled” articles on publishers’ sites, where available, to help publishers expand their audience.
But some observers were quick to question the program, dismissing it as more of a public relations manoeuvre, and one that furthers a divide-and-conquer strategy aimed at heading off government-led plans in some countries to level the playing field between the online giants and traditional publishers.
Google’s new arrangement comes as traditional media revenue has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic despite significant demand for news content.
“A vibrant news industry matters — perhaps now more than ever, as people look for information they can count on in the midst of a global pandemic and growing concerns about racial injustice around the world,” Bender wrote in the blog post.
“But these events are happening at a time when the news industry is also being challenged financially.”
Among the biggest challenges to the news industry over the past number of years has come from large tech platforms such as Google and Facebook, which aggregate online news generated and paid for by publishers. This arguably helps them boost traffic and earn revenue through search. The platforms also compete for and influence the price of online advertising through their own sales platforms.
Canadian publishers, including National Post owner Postmedia Inc., have appealed to government “to correct an historical inequality that dates back to the birth of digital media platforms.”

A vibrant news industry matters — perhaps now more than ever, as people look for information they can count on

Brad Bender, Google

Some governments, including those in Australia and the European Union, have been taking steps to address the challenges their news and publishing industries face through competition and copyright laws.
After Australia’s competition authority was unable to negotiate a voluntary code of conduct to level the playing field between traditional media companies and large tech platforms, the government ordered it to create a mandatory code this spring that will govern the sharing of revenue generated from news.
Sarah Ganter, an assistant professor the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., said Australia’s mandatory code is still in the making, and, when in force, would be applied on top of any “bilaterally negotiated conditions” under the licensing program Google announced Thursday.
“It is no surprise that Google would try to stay on top of the game and it is no surprise that some publishers would be tempted to join in,” she said of the partnerships discussed in Google blog post.
“These dynamics are driven by the power asymmetries that have been growing between platforms and publishers for years and by a situation where publishers are more and more forced to take what they can to survive.”

Some observers suggest the program furthers a divide-and-conquer strategy aimed at heading off government-led plans.

Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
Like Australia, governments in Europe have been moving to level this playing field and provide much-needed financial support to domestic news publishers. Last year, the European Parliament approved a new copyright directive that includes a “link tax,” which requires publishers, including news producers, be paid for online use of their content.
But Google has pushed back on efforts to force payments by some European countries — including France, Germany, and Spain — by altering the way its platform displays news, or, in the case of Spain, dropping the country from its Google News platform altogether.
The tech giants have also argued that they already support publishers, as Google’s Bender did in his blog post Thursday.
“Over the years, we’ve built audiences and driven economic value for publishers by sending people to news sites over 24 billion times a month, giving publishers the opportunity to offer ads or subscriptions and increase the audience for their content,” he wrote.
He added that there has also been direct financial support, such as the Google News Initiative, which included a $300 million commitment in 2018 “to help build a more sustainable future for news via programs like Subscribe with Google and the Local Experiments Project.”

Google has pushed back on efforts to force payments by some European countries or dropping the country altogether

Nikos Smyrnaios, an associate professor of applied social sciences at the Université de Toulouse, said the new licensing partnership announced Thursday is “a very good PR method” that also fits with Google’s strategy of capitalizing on divisions in the publishing industry.
“Google’s initiative aims (to divide) the publishers … by paying some of them, but not all,” he said, noting that publishers in France, for the moment, have not signed on to the new service.
“French publishers don’t seem to fall for it this time and demand that they all get paid for copyright,” he said, adding that while Google’s new licensing partnership might be positive for some publishers from an economic standpoint in the short term, it “may lead to even more concentration of the audience in a few … publishers that are selected by the tech industry (to) the detriment of others.”
Jacob Homel, national strategy advisor at advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said Google’s new licensing partnership with select publishers was most likely forged to try to head off efforts to impose rules and fees on the tech platform.
“By fear of government regulation or taxation, the great big monopoly seeks to dole out small sums voluntarily in order to avoid being regulated by governments,” he said.
Homel said the global online platforms should be subject to the same laws, regulations, and taxes as their competitors around the world.
“They must be legally obligated to pay all publishers a fair price for their content,” he said. “Secret deals to pay some publishers an undisclosed amount simply won’t cut it.”
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