Last Thursday, Google announced a new licensing program in which it would pay select publishers for high quality content, including text, images, audio and video. The content will be part of a new news product Google plans to launch later in the year. The licensed content will appear first on Google News and Discover, available on Android devices. In the company’s announcement, Brad Bender, vice president of product management for news, said the program will be designed to help publishers around the world monetize their content and grow readership.
“This endeavor will diversify our support for news businesses today, building on the value we already provide through Search and our ongoing efforts with the Google News Initiative to help journalism thrive in the digital age. While we’ve previously funded high-quality content, this program is a significant step forward in how we will support the creation of this kind of journalism. To start, we have signed partnerships with local and national publications in Germany, Australia and Brazil,” Bender said.
“We are always keen to explore innovative ways to attract readers to our high quality content,” said Ottlitz. “This interesting new partnership with Google will allow us to curate an experience that will bring our award-winning editorial voice into play, broaden our outreach and provide trusted news in a compelling way across Google products.”
Google said they have been in talks with publishers for months about this opportunity, including Stefan Ottlitz, management director of SPIEGEL Group in Germany.
In addition to paying publishers to license and share their content, Google will offer to pay for free access of paywalled articles for users. This will help publishers grow their audiences by exposing readers to content they would normally only be able to see if they were subscribers.
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In the announcement, Google goes on to discuss how it has supported the news industry in recent years. A few notable initiatives include:
- Creating the Google News Initiative (2018)
- Setting up a Journalism Emergency Relief Fund to provide more than 5,300 publishers around the world with tens of millions of dollars to continue their local reporting of COVID-19 (2020)
- Partnering with the Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium to launch a six-week, $15 million “Support Local News” ad campaign (2020)
In April, French regulators gave Alphabet-owned Google three months to conduct good faith negotiations with publishers and news agencies on how to properly compensate them for using their news snippets in Google search results. In its April 9, 2020 ruling, Autorité de la concurrence said Google likely “abused its dominant position in the general search services market by imposing unfair trading conditions on publishers and news agencies.”
The French regulatory agency estimated that Google had 90% market share for general search services in France and, because of that dominance, it had to “pay to play.”
“Google’s practices caused a serious and immediate damage to the press sector, while the economic situation of publishers and press agencies is also fragile, and the law was on the contrary aimed at improving the conditions of remuneration they derive content produced by journalists,” the Authority said.
Google seems to be going to great lengths to support the news industry, but the company’s motives are not entirely altruistic. In addition to the most recent requirements by the French authorities, last year, the European Commission fined Google 1.49 billion euros (approximately $1.7 billion) for violating the European Union’s antitrust rules. This fine, nor its agreement with French regulators, will mean little to Google (and Alphabet) financially. For 2019, Google reported total revenue of $39.3 billion, a 22% increase year over year, and net income of $8.95 billion. However, regulators and the news industry are sending a clear signal to Google that the free ride is over. They want Google to pay their fair share.