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Germany's Top Publisher Admits Its Web Traffic Plummeted Without Google; Wants Politicians To 'Take Action'

from the careful-what-you-wish-for dept

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the decision by German publishers to grant Google a “free license” to post snippets — a humiliating climbdown from their earlier position that Google should pay for the privilege of sending them traffic. Now Germany’s leading publisher, Springer, has admitted in a Reuters article that stopping Google from using snippets for a while was catastrophic for its titles:

Springer said a two-week-old experiment to restrict access by Google to its news headlines had caused web traffic to its publications to plunge, leading it to row back and let Google once again showcase Springer news stories in its search results.

Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said on Wednesday that his company would have “shot ourselves out of the market” if it had continued with its demands for the U.S. firm to pay licensing fees.

The Reuters article provides some interesting figures quantifying the power of Google in Germany:

Springer said traffic flowing from clicks on Google search results had fallen by 40 percent and traffic delivered via Google News had plummeted by 80 percent in the past two weeks.

In the same piece, a Google spokesperson provided some other numbers:

He said Google delivers more than half a billion clicks to German news sites per month. The search company has paid more than one billion euros in online advertising fees to German media publishers in the last three years, the spokesman said.

Doepfner said his company’s climbdown was

proof of Google’s overwhelming power in the search market. He said he hoped lawmakers, courts and competition regulators would take action to curb its powers.

As we wrote recently, there’s a risk he may well get his wish, especially in the light of these newly-released figures demonstrating Google’s huge power in driving traffic to sites. Given the complete failure of attempts to “curb” Google’s powers in Germany, It’s hard to see how that will turn out well Europe-wide.

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Companies: axel springer, google

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Comments on “Germany's Top Publisher Admits Its Web Traffic Plummeted Without Google; Wants Politicians To 'Take Action'”

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61 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

That has nothing to do with Google’s power. The only thing it reveals is that Google does a better job at indexing websites and media sites than other search engines do. I’m shocked that Germany publishers actually think that Google is more powerful than it already is.

Who are they going to blame next? Yahoo? Bing? Excite?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Contrast the landing pages of Google with its next nearest competitor, Bing.

Google is obviously designed to search for information, just as Bing et al are obviously designed to search for content.

Information is neutral; the display of content can be…influenced.

This is what makes Google so dangerous to content providers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Bing is under Microsoft. Microsoft has its own advertisement department.
Yahoo has Yahoo!Advertising and Adinterax.
Excite is more or less abandoned by their owner and malware distributor extraordinaire Ask.com.

If you want someone they should try to blame it would be DuckDuckGo, Deeperweb and Seeks. Search engines simultaneously running advertising companies are bad for the image of the industry, since advertising is a dirty business.

David says:

They fail to understand

It’s not “Google” with overwhelming power in the market. It’s the value of search engines, in general, in the information market. They cannot seem to understand that no matter what they do to Google, or any other search engine, their content is simply undiscoverable without them.

This is a perfect symbiosis. They provide content, Google provides the pathway for people looking for content to THEIR content! And they keep wanting to find some way to screw it up.

TruthHurts says:

Re: They fail to understand

Exactly.

It’s the people that are the power behind Google’s search being at the top of the search engine’s list.

The people know, trust, use Google more than any other search engine.

These companies need to understand that it’s not Google that is in charge, it’s the masses.

If they restrict Google from accessing / using their snippets, then the people using Google will never see their snippets, period.

It’s incredibly stupid of these companies to beg their law makers to kill their businesses for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They fail to understand

This is a perfect symbiosis. They provide content, Google provides the pathway for people looking for content to THEIR content! And they keep wanting to find some way to screw it up.

No, they don’t want to screw it up. They want a larger share of the symbiotic profit. Because Google is good at what it does and marketing it. If they could do better, they would. Their business is ailing because Google’s services cause competition at a much larger scale than previously for them.

They can’t remove themselves from this larger competition. So they want to get compensation for Google being a driving factor in making their life tougher.

Understandable, but not going to fly.

TruthHurts says:

Re: Re: They fail to understand

Google provides search results.

It’s the people that drive the numbers.

Google does not control how many people use their search engine.

We, the people, control who gets the lion’s share of search requests.

Google doesn’t hurt them or anyone else in any way shape or form, unless it’s due to some other company’s lawsuit or Government derived mis-ruling that forces Google to modify the search results in some fashion or another.

In that case, their problem is caused by their competition, or their Government not Google.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: They fail to understand

“Their business is ailing because Google’s services cause competition at a much larger scale than previously for them.”

I don’t understand what this means… it sounds like the argument is that their business is failing because they’re operating in a larger market, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re intending to say.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 They fail to understand

Yes, that’s why I figured I had to be misunderstanding — in the absence of things like increased production and distribution costs, it makes no sense at all to think that addressing a larger market is bad business.

Even if you have a smaller percentage of larger market than you had of the smaller market (which is likely), you’re still making more money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 They fail to understand

Because of a search engines (Google is only relevant as they are hard to bully), they are much more exposed to competition which is not going to withdraw from Google search, so their bargaining position is weak. Yet – they claimed that Google is somehow living on their expense, they just proved themselves wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

If Germany publishers think the problem is bad now, just wait until Google decides to permanently stop providing traffic to Germany’s websites by removing those websites from their search engine.

If they think that a drop of 40-80% of their traffic is bad, just wait when they lose 100% of their traffic.

Fact is, websites depend on traffic provided by search engines. It’s been that way ever since the internet evolved via web browsers.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“If they think that a drop of 40-80% of their traffic is bad, just wait when they lose 100% of their traffic.”

Well, let’s not get too hyperbolic here. They would never lose 100% of their traffic. Lots of people get to web sites through means other than search engine results. 90%, maybe…

On sites that I’ve run in the past, search engines accounted for between 50-70% of my traffic, depending on the phase of the moon.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Fact is, websites depend on traffic provided by search engines. It’s been that way ever since the internet evolved via web browsers.”

First, you are confusing the Internet and the web. The web is of course that portion of the Internet that’s most visible to novice users, and so it’s understandable that they conflate the two. But — as everyone of sufficiently long and deep experience knows — the web is NOT the Internet and is not even the most important component of the Internet.

Second, while it is true that some web sites depend in part on some traffic generated via some search engines, that is by no means globally true and it is a serious error to presume that it is. Despite the fabrications and lies of so-called “SEO optimization experts” (all of whom are frauds, most of whom are spammers), there are tens of millions of web sites that are doing just fine while receiving very little traffic via search engines. They don’t need to. They may not want to. They cater to smaller audiences and as long as those audiences know the requisite URLs, both the operators and the users manage just fine — and would continue to do even if all search engines ceased to exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Geez.

Well, what I think is happening is this:

Springer has learned through their ‘experiment’ that Google has gained a very powerful bargaining position: it can just about kill a web-based service simply by omitting it from the search results. And if, at some day in the future, Google should start asking payment for that traffic, Springer would be unable to refuse…

Springer finally realizes that Google (almost) has a monopoly position: the monopoly of directing seekers of information to information sources.

And it’s that monopoly they are now afraid of. That is why they ask the politicians to “curb Google’s power”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Geez.

I don’t agree. Sure, the actual ancillary copyright laws were stupid laws passed by special interest groups out of a false sense of entitlement. But as the previous poster said, Google pushed back against those laws with its near-monopoly position. And Google won. That’s all about power.

I personally don’t give a damn about Springer, and I think Google was in the right. But, you know….this could also be viewed as a case where the German legislature tried to regulate how a transnational corporation treated with a domestic industry. It turns out that those regulations were unenforceable, and I’m not particularly comfortable with that.

One of the big problems with TPP is the part that sets up “investor-state dispute settlement” clauses and lets companies place themselves above national laws. I’m not a huge fan of that concept, even when (as in this case) the national laws are stupid laws and the company isn’t obviously doing anything wrong. When corporate policy can override national law, you’ve got a problem.

It’s easy to smirk at Axel Springer, just because they were obviously acting from false entitlement and they got smacked down hard. But that smack-down was all about power. If the same scenario played out with local farmers’ unions in the place of Springer and Monsanto instead of Google, I doubt many people would be cheering. It’s important not to let schadenfreude get in the way of seeing the power dynamics behind this.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Geez.

I see where you’re coming from, AC, but I disagree. The only people power-tripping were the German publishers. Google just took the ladder away from the tree when they were told they would be charged for leaning it against it. The alternative was to become recidivist criminals, constantly paying fines.

Unless Monsanto was a major provider of distribution of their products, there’s no parallel.

The POINT of Monsanto is to lock farmers into licensing agreements for ever and ever and ever… Google doesn’t do this.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Geez.

The day Google started omitting big sites from it’s search results would be the start of googles downfall.

It’s essential for news sites to be indexed, but it’s also essential for google to provide meaningful results for people who use it, or they’ll look for a more relevant search engine.

It’s a two way symbiotic relation, and so far only one side tried to abuse it (and failed miserably).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Geez.

“Then they don’t offer their service in your country.”

What does this actually mean on the internet? I run several servers and services that are accessible across the net, but they are intended to be used by myself and a small handful of associates. Nonetheless, anyone in the world can use them. Does that count as “offering” those services globally?

If so, what would be required to avoid that designation?

For example, it seems to me that logically speaking, if Google stopped engaging in commerce with anyone in Germany (no offices, cash no checks, etc.) and didn’t change a single other thing that should qualify as not “offering” their services in Germany — but it would not cause any operation change to how they run their news site at all.

The end result would be pretty much the same as what the situation is now: the news page would be the same, and no German publishers would get a dime more than they get anyway.

When it comes to web sites, I don’t really see how the notion of “offering your services” to specific nations is actually meaningful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Someone else who confuses Google with being the internet. Axel Springer company is pissed that it’s part in the move to tax Google left them with egg on their face. They looked just as ridiculous as they were. They are also pissed that they were shown not to be as big and important as they are in their own corporate minds.

I don’t use Google. Not it’s services, not it’s search engine. I simply don’t like it’s terms of service, implied or stated. Nor do I like the idea of when there is a problem you can’t get ahold of anyone to straighten it out.

Just because it is free does not mean it is free of problems.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just to pile on, me too. I haven’t used Google anything for years. There are others that do just as good a job for my needs.

Unfortunately, lots of people think monopoly is inherently bad. It’s not. There’ve been plenty of natural monopolies that got that way and stayed that way simply by doing a great job, or at least a better job than their competitors in the eyes of their patrons.

Google has done a great job at marketing making them synonymous with search. “To Google” has become a generic term, even making it into recent SciFi novels I’ve read. It annoys me a bit, but I don’t resent it. More power to them.

Doepner is cringing from shadows assigning evil due to his personal ignorance. I can’t see why anyone complains about them. You don’t like them, don’t use them. Smiple [sic].

Anonymous Coward says:

“He said he hoped lawmakers, courts and competition regulators would take action to curb its powers.”

As others have already pointed out, he doesn’t understand why Google is able to send the visitors to their websites. The ultimate translation of what this guy is asking for is: “I wish officious EU politicians would force EU citizens to use a different search engine.” How do you accomplish this other than banning Google from providing search services in Europe? If you’re silly and say that you just want to remove Google’s market share, you’re really just saying, “I wish there were a way to arbitrarily mandate that a portion of the EU population has to use a different search engine.”

I spoken to a number of libertarians who seem to hate Google, but even they should be upset that a government might attempt to interfere with Google’s business simply because it’s successful. I could understand wanting to go after them if Google were manipulating the news in Germany or causing political corruption through bribery, but their sole “offense” is being good at their business.

David says:

Re: Re:

The ultimate translation of what this guy is asking for is: “I wish officious EU politicians would force EU citizens to use a different search engine.”

No, Google is not abusing its search engine king position to any legally significant degree.

What this guy is asking for is abolishing reasonably effortless search engines altogether. Where is the point in being an established player when people don’t get their information by looking for your name but by looking for their information?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Abolish Google!

Stone tablets? Are you crazy? We don’t have to invent new stone age protocols when we already have them for carrier pigeons.

(Just as point of interest, this RFC was actually successfully implemented, sending 9 packets with a 55% packet loss and a latency varying from approximately 3,000,000ms to 6,000,000ms.)

OldGeezer (profile) says:

They are big so they must be evil!

No, they are big because they are a company that continuously innovates. They have brilliant people that have never been satisfied and work to improve their products and research new ones. Only a few years back I never supposed that when I planned a trip to the east side of the city, instead of getting lost like I usually do I could click street view and virtually drive down the streets to where I was going. I can see 360 to make note of signs and buildings right up to my destination. A company that provides valuable services that people want deserves to reap the rewards. If the others can’t keep up that is their problem.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: They are profitable so they must be evil!

How many billions of clicks and billions of euros paid to advertisers in Germany does it take to for them to realize that Google is a pretty sweet deal for them and they deserve to make their share of the money? Google should completely shut down all services to any country that gives them crap in the future.

David says:

Re: Re:

If they don’t like it – they should just make their own search engine.

If the search engine is good at pointing out the best information source, it will render their brand name as an information source worthless.

If the search engine is bad at pointing out the best information source, people will not use it.

As long as anybody is free to create a search engine, it is likely that the best search engine will be preferred by people, rendering the publishers’ brand value moot.

The only viable solution is to prohibit news search engines altogether or make it infeasible to operate them.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve had a particular interest in this since it seems actual adult humans fail to understand basic technology in this day and age. I know that’s reported on a lot around here but this is a special brand of head in sand ignorance. Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t, but it could all be avoided if they would roll over and die. I would really like to see Google just say “You know what, fuck it, I don’t have to stay n this kind of abusive relationship.” stop offering Google services in Germany and watch as everyone collectively loses their shit and demands that they be forced to return.

GEMont (profile) says:

Give USG a helping hand.

I think its time for Google to start stating globally, that if you don’t like Google Service in your country, fine, it will no longer service your country.

And if your country exits that service and then later wants it back, it’ll cost you dearly in re-start-up fees and ad costs.

I’ll bet it’ll turn out to be a far better way to foment massive civil unrest in foreign countries than anything the CIA can cook up.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Give USG a helping hand.

… it’ll cost you dearly in re-start-up fees and ad costs.

It’ll also cost a lot of individual Germans and German businesses dearly to be cut off from Google’s services. Think, “Your cloud storage provider just went tits up.” It would cause a lot of disruption considering G.’s popularity.

If your motto is “Don’t be evil”, I wouldn’t want to go there, even if it’s dickheads who’re causing it and not G.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Give USG a helping hand.

“If your motto is “Don’t be evil”, I wouldn’t want to go there, even if it’s dickheads who’re causing it and not G.”

Perhaps, but then again, I’ve never been one to put a lot of faith in a Corporation’s Public Relations Slogans, advertisements or Mottos.

A corporation has but one purpose, regardless of its product or service, or its motto. That purpose is simply to take in more money this year than last year, and absolutely every single action a corporation takes, is designed to insure that this goal is reached.

That little graph chart that depicts a company’s profits year by year is the true pulse of any corporation and must always rise to new heights each year.

Eternal Sustainable Growth is not really possible, but is nonetheless, the singular goal of all corporations.

“Don’t be Evil”, instills no more faith than does “A Family Company”, or any other corporate motto, as it is designed to make the company look good, nothing more.

All that aside….

“Think, “Your cloud storage provider just went tits up.” It would cause a lot of disruption considering G.’s popularity.”

I would think that the first country to “opt out” of Google, would provide the best possible advertisement conceivable, and insure Google’s acceptance by every other country/government on earth, specifically because of the losses incurred almost immediately by the businesses in that first country, caused solely by its government.

And since with a little penalty pay added to the cost, country A could quickly Opt back in as soon as its government realized the damage it had done, very little real “evil” would be done.

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