Amid ongoing questions about how digital platforms profit from news and publisher content, and how they subsequently share the benefits of such with the original creators, Google has this week announced a new, $1 billion partnership with European news publishers as it seeks to establish improved connection, and facilitate the evolution of the news publishing sector.
As explained by Google:
"This financial commitment - our biggest to date - will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for a different kind of online news experience. Google News Showcase is a new product that will benefit both publishers and readers: It features the editorial curation of award-winning newsrooms to give readers more insight on the stories that matter, and in the process, helps publishers develop deeper relationships with their audiences."
It sounds very similar to Facebook's dedicated News tab, which it's in the process of rolling out, and which also enables approved publishers to essentially curate and manage their content on the platform, helping improve connection with audiences, while also establishing a more official, vetted stream of official news, which could help reduce the spread of misinformation.
But while Facebook has focused its announcements on news content quality and original reporting, Google's new program seems more focused on paying publishers - which makes sense, given the various battles the search giant is facing in regards to the way in which it uses news content.
The Australian government, for example, is currently looking to implement new legislation which would essentially force both Facebook and Google to share part of their revenue with local news publishers for the use of their content on their platforms. Both Google and Facebook have rejected the proposal, and have threatened to stop using publisher content completely, if the new measures are approved.
And they're right. The Australian proposal is based on the flawed principle that Google and Facebook need the content created by local news publishers to survive, which they don't, and as a result, the final outcome of the push, if the Government does choose to go ahead with it, will see local publishers lose out on web traffic and revenue as a result of the two giants revising their processes in line with the rules.
That's the opposite outcome to what the Government is seeking to achieve, but the basis for the push, which has also been enacted in different ways in both France and Spain, is really that Facebook and Google are making a lot of money, while local publishers are struggling.
Facebook and Google use their content, so they should share, right?
Well, kind of - as Google explains:
"Google Search and Google News help news publishers by sending large amounts of traffic for free to their sites. In Europe alone, people click on the news content Google links to more than eight billion times a month—that means we drive 3,000 clicks per second to publishers’ own websites. For larger news publishers, a study by Deloitte put the value of each click between 4-6 euro cents, mostly generated through advertising and subscriptions."
So Google's saying that it already does provide financial benefit to news publishers, and its working to improve those benefits through programs like this new, billion-dollar commitment, as well as the Google News Initiative and other projects.
"It’s not true to say we don’t pay for news or drive value for the industry. As mentioned above, Google links to news, and helps drive millions of readers to publishers' sites and apps - rather than carrying news articles ourselves. That creates a huge opportunity for publishers to turn those readers into loyal subscribers or show ads."
Essentially, Google's counter-argument is that the news industry needs to evolve its business model with modern consumption behaviors, which is the real solution, not simply paying arbitrary percentages based on flawed modeling.
But that will take time, and significant industry shifts, while it also leaves publishers at the mercy of Facebook and Google's systems. That's not an ideal scenario, but the basis of Google's stance makes logical sense - and either way, Google has shown no sign of shifting in its approach to such in the face of previous, similar challenges.
Better then, maybe, for publishers to work with it - and new initiatives like this could provide a new way for publishers to maximize revenue opportunities, while also maintaining more control over audience connection, enabling them to build on their own terms and platforms.
It's a very complex area, but Google's new initiative could help provide another way forward for the industry.
Google says that it's signed partnerships for its News Showcase with nearly 200 leading publications across Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. News Showcase will begin rolling out to Google News users in Brazil and Germany from today, and will expand to other countries in the coming months "where local frameworks support these partnerships".