Slippery Slope: Is Google Now Paying More Newspapers To Link To Them?

from the just-cut-them-off dept

We were surprised last month to hear that Google had backed down in its dispute with news agency AFP, agreeing to pay up in order to link to AFP articles in Google News. As has been explained repeatedly, Google is increasing traffic and attention to their sites. That is, Google is doing them a huge favor (and considering how much search engine optimizers cost these days, it’s saving them a lot of money too). If those newspapers are too braindead to figure out how to monetize that traffic, well, that’s their problem. If they really want to punch the gift horse in the mouth, all they have to do is use a robots.txt file. Instead, however, after troubles in Belgium, Google started backing down… and that’s resulted in a slippery slope. Suddenly, everyone wants their cut. That’s why you hear all these stories from newspaper publishers whining about how Google is somehow “stealing” from them. They all know it’s a negotiating tactic, and that Google has started to cave. With news leaking out that Google has now paid off a bunch of British newspapers as well, the pressure is only going to get stronger. Of course, the really sinister explanation that some are suggesting for this is that Google knows that it can afford to pay off these newspapers — while not many other sites can. So, effectively, Google may be paying off these newspapers not because of real legal threats, but because it knows that the legal threats will be pointed instead to other competitive services who are less able to weather such legal challenges. This, apparently, is also the same deal that Google set up with music labels when it decided to buy YouTube. If true, this seems like a strategy that will come back to bite Google in the long term. Having to pay for permission to do things that are perfectly legal already is a dangerous precedent to set — and it’s one that Google will likely regret. Update: Google is denying this story.


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Comments on “Slippery Slope: Is Google Now Paying More Newspapers To Link To Them?”

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13 Comments
ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

Tactics

While they’ve agreed to pay, I haven’t seen anything that legally compels them to pay. Since no one in his right mind pays others for the privilege of helping them there has to be a reason. Is it to force the other search engines into paying out of their considerably smaller cash reserves? Is it a carrot to get in the door of an industry which sees them as a threat in order to to work on some newer search and info aggregation?

Google’s not hurt by cutting such deals. There’s no legal requirement to pay beyond what tort law covers in the deals made so at any point (based on the terms of those deals) Google can stop. “But we’ve always done it that way” does not legal precedent set.

Google could go to court to fight this any time it wants and it’s unlikely any jury in the world would buy the press’ contentions. However, the judicial system is an odd beast and I expect Google’s primary concern was removing unknown factors, like nonsensical court rulings which could further hinder their work.

My question isn’t why they’re paying these idiots instead of giving them their sought-after Pyrrhic victory. What’s so important to Google about unfettered and continuous access to worldwide news?

Hemingway says:

Not Rocket Science

Fortunately, cooler heads usually prevail in disputes like this. If it were up to me, and I was in Google management, I’d ban the newspaper that demanded cash from our search and then show the idiots in charge of the newspaper how they’re traffic is taking a nosedive.

One thing is certain – the publishing world, especially periodicals publishers, will go to their graves trying to ignore the digital age. The only thing they know is ink and paper and will demand their readers only buy their product that way.

Of course, in the US anyway, the readers will have the final say.

Linqink says:

Realization that Google Needs Newspapers Too?

It’s easy to thump on the publishers about their inability to monetize the traffic Google delivers, but talking about it and actually doing it are very different things. The competition for advertisers is fiercer than ever these days, and there’s no indication that any traditional media business will be able to make up for their print revenue decline with digital profits. Play that out to its conclusion, and you’re looking at ever more layoffs at traditional news services, increased consolidation, and ultimately fewer sources for the news stories that drive so much Google traffic. Diversity benefits Google, and a world where we have PoliticalNewsSource.com and SportsScoreSource.com and HollywoodGossipSource.com doesn’t help Google in the least. Cutting the papers in on a tiny percentage of the those Google profits in order to help keep diversity of reported news sources doesn’t just help the publishers; it helps Google. Is it a subsidy for a floundering business? You bet. Is that always a bad idea? Of course not.

Dosquatch says:

A few possible answers

  1. It’s cheaper to pay off than to fight in court
  2. Perhaps this is the newpaper’s attempt to monetize the traffic
  3. If Google drops all links to whiners, or if they robots.txt Google out, Google begins to lose value as a search engine – perhaps they realize this?
  4. Perhaps some novel legal theory with merit that supports “You’re infringing by linking” has been presented to Google’s legal team and they’re paying to keep that theory out of court
  5. Perhaps sharing the wealth is part of their “do no evil” creed
  6. Perhaps there’s a new business model brewing in the backwaters at Google and these payments are greasing the wheels, and they’re figuring on being able to recapture this expenditure

But, really, who knows? It’s Google’s money, and the holder of the purse strings thinks for whatever reason these payments are a good idea. Casting stones without the full story is fruitless.

Steve Bryant (profile) says:

Nope

Mike, I don’t think Google would allow legal action to be redirected to parties unable to defend themselves. If those parties lost the same battle in a courtroom, it would set a bad precedent for Google’s chances going forward. And as we’ve seen with YouTube, Google is more than willing to be the standard bearer when it comes to legal questions of fair use and DMCA compliance.

I agree with Tactics, above. Google loses little by agreeing to pay the publishers and avoiding a long-term court battle. They’ve already got enough on their hands with the book publishers and Viacom. No need to put every part of your biz model in the hands of lawyers all at once. 😉

One more thing: News is more important to Google than simply news.google.com. Google relies on constantly updated information to sell ads around. Now Google doesn’t sell ads on Google News, but they do on Google.com. And now that they’ve rolled out Universal Search, the line between the two is blurred. Perhaps Google is worried that a negative court ruling on news.google.com could have some effect on their main search. Not likely, but a possibility.

Sanguine Dream says:

Funny thought...

What if Google starts to pay off all these newspapers for the “privelage” to link their stories to Google News and then all of a sudden months (may a year or so) down the line Google just stops paying and stops linking.

If Google stops linking what are the newspapers gonna do?

I know that scenario is serious gamble on Google’s part and therefore likely not to happen but like I titled this, it’s just a funny thought.

ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

Content

In a sense Google is the content. People are looking for information and they don’t have the time to search through 1000 different newspapers. The aggregation is just like their Brownie camera which Kodak produced in order to sell film. Google sells ads, but they can do it because they have a product: information. Their dominance in the market, due in great part to the relevance of that information, is the very reason everyone wants to be in Google.

If Google had said, “Screw ’em”, it would’ve taught the Belgian press a harsh lesson quickly. We in the tech industry know that. But Google didn’t. Steve makes a good point about having control over the legal defense of a position but this just makes me wonder even more why Google was so quick to settle and stay on the publishers’ good sides. It has nothing to do with their motto; there’s quite a difference between “do no evil” and “hand out cash to idiots unable to monetise their own bloody products”.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

Google is the next Wal-Mart

Everyone roots for the underdog.
No one cheers for the big guy.

Google has now taken the mantle from a long line:
Wal-Mart, Exxon, Microsoft, Telephone company

Google is now the big guy.
The big guy is always the target.
Just look at the attacks on Google.

Take the old attacks on Wal-Mart/Microsoft and replace the name Google and you have the news for next year.

People think Big is bad and attack what they cannot control.

web 2.0 innovations (user link) says:

Content owners vs. Content mash-ups

below is an interesting article worth reading in the context of Google News’s issue above and namely where the border really is between reproducing the content in whole and extracting small snippets from content found on third party sites providing a source link in return…

Content owners vs. Content mash-ups

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