Google announced 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 organizations’ 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.
“A vibrant news industry matters — perhaps now more than ever, as people look for information they can count on amid a global pandemic and growing concerns about racial injustice around the world,” Google vice president for news Brad Bender wrote in a blog post. “But these events are happening at a time when the news industry is also being challenged financially. We care deeply about providing access to information and supporting the publishers who report on these important topics.”
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. And Facebook has launched several programs for news organizations, including a recent $100 million fund to support struggling news outlets.
Google has also created initiatives to help news organizations optimize 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 organizations.
There’s 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. Of course, the new program will initially be limited in scope. Bender wrote that the company will “start with publishers in a number of countries around the globe, with more to come soon.” That includes partnerships already signed with publishers in Germany (the Spiegel Group), Australia, and Brazil.
“This program will help participating publishers monetize their content through an enhanced storytelling experience that lets people go deeper into more complex stories, stay informed, and be exposed to a world of different issues and interests,” Bender wrote.
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. Bender said the goal is to help readers discover quality news and hopefully drive subscriptions.
“Alongside other companies, governments, and civic society organizations, we’re committed to playing our part to support news businesses,” Bender wrote. “Today’s undertaking exemplifies that, and we look forward to what we can all achieve together.”