About four years ago, you may recall, a group of German publishers were absolutely furious
at Google for daring to send them traffic
. At the time, they more or less admitted that they were just jealous that Google was able to earn revenue:
Hans-Joachim Fuhrmann, a spokesman for the German Newspaper Publishers Association, said the Web sites of all German newspapers and magazines together made 100 million euros, or $143 million, in ad revenue, while Google generated 1.2 billion euros from search advertising in Germany.
"Google says it brings us traffic, but the problem is that Google earns billions, and we earn nothing," Mr. Fuhrmann said.
Of course, as we pointed out at the time, he was comparing apples to oranges. Google earns money from search advertising. And the newspapers earn money from advertising as well, so the claim that the newspapers earn "nothing" is wrong. However, two years later, the publishers convinced the German government to take a stand and claim that showing news snippets and linking to the source somehow required a license
. That resulted in a legislative fight, ending last year with a somewhat watered down snippet law
that no one was entirely sure applied to Google.
Well, it appears the publishers aren't satisfied with how this has all worked out, because as Jeff Jarvis is pointing out, they've kicked off a legal arbitration process, in which they're demanding 11% of gross worldwide revenue
on any search result that includes one of their snippets. This has been filed by the VG Media industry group. This is bizarre on multiple levels, including the fact that if everyone
was able to get that, given the "10 blue links" nature of Google, the company would have to pay out over 100% of its search revenue to the very same people they're sending traffic to
. That's... ridiculous.
Of course, we've seen all of this before. In nearby Belgium, a bunch of newspapers demanded payment
back in 2006, and a court then ordered Google to pay up
. When Google, instead, decided to remove those newspapers from its index, the very same Belgian newspapers flipped out
and demanded to be let back into Google
. Eventually, for reasons that I still don't understand, Google effectively decided to pay off the Belgian newspapers with a promise of vaguely helping them
to make money online. I would imagine that the German newspapers are just looking for a similar handout. Same thing as French newspapers
However, the example of the Belgians both demanding payment, but then also freaking out when they were removed from the index, is instructive. These newspapers receive tremendous benefits from being included in Google: Google sends them a ton of traffic. That's why they got so upset when removed. The problem
is that (1) they're apparently bad at monetizing that traffic and (2) they're jealous of Google, thus demanding a pay off of some sort. As Danny Sullivan writes about this latest lawsuit, the true hypocrisy is apparent in the fact that the German newspapers, supposedly so upset about Google listing them without paying, have not only done nothing to remove themselves from Google's index (as can be easily done), but have actually made use of Google's tools to enhance their appearance
As Sullivan notes, these newspapers aren't being "swept up into Google's results against their wills," but rather appear to be "actively trying to gain more placement and visibility in them." And that's why this move for a cut of the revenue is so ridiculous and cynical. Basically, they're getting an incredibly valuable service from Google for free
and are now demanding to get paid for it as well