Monday, October 5, 2020

"Google is giving $1 billion to news publishers — to help convince governments not to take a whole lot more than that" (GOOG)

From NiemanLab, October 1:

The money, spread over three years and the entire globe, is welcome — but this is PR, not a product.
Good news! Google’s going to spend $1 billion over the next three years paying publishers for their news. Specifically, the money will license publishers’ content for a new feature in Google News called Google News Showcase.

That’s a billion dollars that publishers didn’t have before, and it’s better to have a billion dollars than to not have a billion dollars. (Or so I’m told.) I am squarely in the take-the-money camp here.

But you have to remember: Google’s interactions with the news industry are always fundamentally about its interests, not publishers’.

There’s nothing unusual or wrong with that, really; “working to advance your own interests” is a pretty common thread throughout capitalism. It’s what corporations do! But you should keep that in mind before being bowled over by a 10-digit number.

And when a corporate announcement like this seems to make no sense at all from a straight profit-and-loss perspective, it’s probably about meeting a deeper need somewhere else — in this case, Google’s need to be beloved enough to remain underregulated.

As I argued in June — the last time the company got that coveted “Google will start paying publishers for news” headline — the tech giants are generally fine with the idea of writing publishers some big checks. They’ve got the money, after all, and publishers’ complaints about the duopoly are a longtime headache and a PR problem. If Google and Facebook can find a dollar figure that would make that go away, they’ll do it.

The key, though, is that it has to be done on the companies’ terms — not publishers’, and certainly not (shiver) governments’. Here’s what they want:
  • They want to pick which publishers get the money. And they want to determine (and keep quiet) how much each one gets. They don’t want this to become an obligation owed equally to everyone who publishes anything on the Internet.
  • They want the money to “pay” for some small new side product, not their big moneymakers (search for Google, the News Feed for Facebook). They want to make sure the deal isn’t: “We’re giving publishers back some of the money they think we steal from them everyday.” It’s: “Let’s partner on something new.”
  • They want the money to earn them happy headlines like “Google Pledges $1 Billion to News Publishers,” get the press off their backs, and ideally lower the heat on calls for government regulation or taxation.
Google’s announcement today checks all three boxes.

The company is picking what countries it wants to start licensing news in and what publishers it wants to license from. Google News Showcase currently has “nearly 200” publishers in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K., and Australia....