Back in June Google announced it was working on a new program to licence and pay for high-quality journalism and media, at that stage Australia was one of the trial markets. Today Google has released an update on the program and Australian media organisations have been pulled from the trial.
Google telegraphed this in their open letter to Australians earlier this week. It actually makes sense that during this period of unrest and non-cooperation between Big Media in Australia and Google that they would be removed from the trial.
We know there are arguments that this proves that Google and Facebook have too much power, and we have never argued that Google (or Facebook) should be left unchecked. In the end, Google and Facebook are private companies, they can make any changes to their free services whenever they want. This does risk how what we perceive as the web could function.
Conversely, it also shows exactly how much value Google does bring to the media industry. Right now, this morning, 71% of Ausdroid’s traffic has arrived via either organic search or Google News, and 70% of that is from Google (Ausdroid is no longer on Facebook). That traffic is 100% free to us and it’s what keeps small and independent news organisations operational.
If you’re a media outlet that does not want to be indexed by Google or appear in Google News then you can mark-up your pages with the robots.txt file and Google will not index your content inline with your wishes. Large media outlets know exactly how much free value they are getting from Google, they just want a second bite of the cherry.
In Spain when publishers pushed for regulation for Google to pay for news content Google simply withdrew from the Spanish news market and search traffic and overall profitability for media dropped. In Germany when Media outlets were allowed to opt-out of Google if Google refused to pay for their snippets the publisher’s lasted less than a month before agreeing to come back onto Google’s free platform.
Again, is this the hallmark of a truly valuable free service that Google has created, or evidence that platforms like Google and Facebook control the market, or both? So what are we going to miss out on locally?
This mornings announcement has now reduced the trial to just Brazil and Germany, where Google will work with ‘eligible’ publishers (ie. large ones) on a range of strategies to drive readership, foster brand relationships and pay for content. Strategies include Google paying for paywalled content so readers get a consistent experience while News outlets maintain their business model.
Hosting content on Google News in a consistent way but including elements of an outlets branding to help foster relationships and make attribution clear. Google is now looking at user testing to understand how readers engage with these strategies and how that affects media outlets overall.
Google is looking at a larger rollout by the end of the year, it’s unclear if moves like the ACCC’s attempt to over-regulate the news relationships between Google and Facebook and larger media outlets will affect any future Australian launch.
The leadership and team at Ausdroid strongly oppose the currently proposed ACCC regulations. They do nothing to foster a vibrant small and independent news voice and only seeks to further empower the mega media corporations who’s failure to thrive is more tied to them being out of date, than Google somehow ‘stealing’ their business.
This is a nuanced debate, one that could have ripple effects across Australia now and into the future. We are not saying do nothing, we are not saying Google and Facebook are perfect. What we are advocating for is more consultation with media organisations of all sizes, as well as the readers before a regulation is established that only benefits the draconian media elite who are scared of losing their death grip on the Australian news landscape.