Google has announced that it will begin paying news publishers for ‘high-quality content’ with the launch of a ‘new news experience’ later this year. The move marks a major departure for Google, which has until now steadfastly refused to compensate news publishers for content. As news organisations’ digital advertising revenues have plunged, critics in the media, and even many politicians, have been pressuring Google to pay to license content.
Many details of the new program remain unclear. But with the news industry further weakened by economic fallout from the coronavirus, any potential revenue will likely be welcomed.
In recent years, major platforms and tech companies have sought to strike partnerships with news publishers. Last year, Apple launched Apple News+, a subscription service that offers access to more than 300 publications. Facebook has also launched several programs for news organisations, including a recent $100 million fund to support struggling news outlets.
Google has also created initiatives to help news organisations optimise revenues in the digital age. These include the Google News Lab, the Google News Training Initiative, and more recently its emergency relief fund for news organisations.
There is not much evidence such partnerships have significantly impacted news outlets’ bottom line. Google and Facebook have effectively become a duopoly that controls the digital advertising space, making it difficult for online news operations to thrive. So Google can also expect some skepticism going into this new venture.
For more than a decade, publishers, particularly in Europe, have complained that Google is unfairly profiting from their content by showing snippets in search results and Google News. Some European countries have asked Google to pay to license that content, which has resulted in the company either shutting down local versions of Google News or eliminating snippets.
Last year, the European Union passed a controversial copyright law that, among other things, included a ‘link tax’ requiring platforms to pay publishers if they display excerpts of content. In April, France’s competition authority ruled Google must pay for news content.
Until recently, Google insisted it would not pay for content, and it’s not clear what led to this sudden U-turn. The new program will initially be limited in scope. The company will start with publishers in a number of countries around the globe, with more to come soon. This includes partnerships already signed with publishers in Germany (the Spiegel Group), Australia, and Brazil.
This new service will first go live on Google News and Discover, though it may eventually include general search. The good news for consumers is that this new product will allow free access to paywalled articles through its licensing deal. The goal is to help readers discover quality news and hopefully drive subscriptions.
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