Google announced that they have negotiated to begin paying for Australian News with publishers who have agreed to participate in the Google News Showcase program. It’s unclear if this is enough to stop Australian legislation that Google claims will force it to leave the country.
News Media Bargaining Code
Australian legislators had been holding hearings and working to enact a new law that would effectively force Google to pay for the privilege of displaying links to Australian News.
Australian news media has suffered a catastrophic decline in advertising revenue, said to be as high as 75% since 2005 and some have laid the blame on Google.
I attended the first Google Zeitgeist conference at Google’s campus in Mountain View California in the early 2000’s and listened to presentations from the leaders of American news media and the common theme was fear that Google would impact their revenues.
The situation of declining revenue has been simmering for a long time.
Google Threatened to Pull Out of Australia
As reported in last week (Will Australia Have to Live Without Google Search?), Google Australia’s Managing Director Mel Silva testified in a Senate hearing that there was no way Google could continue in Australia should the law pass.
“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”
Then she threatened that Google Search would pull out of Australia entirely:
“We do not see a way, with the financial and operational risks, that we could continue to offer a service in Australia.”
Google Offers to Pay for News
In a seeming reversal, Google announced that it will pay for Google News through their Google News Showcase program that licenses news for use in their search engine.
According to the official Google announcement:
“To meet growing reader and publisher needs, last year we increased our investment in news partnerships and launched Google News Showcase.
Today we are happy to announce we are rolling out an initial version of the product to benefit users and publishers in Australia, with a keen focus on leading regional and independent publishers given the importance of local information and the role it plays in people’s everyday lives.
News Showcase is designed to bring value to both publishers and readers by providing a licensing program that pays publishers to curate content for story panels across Google services, and gives readers more insights into the stories that matter.”
There is no indication whether this will be enough to stop the new law from going through.
The Guardian reported that one news organization dismissed Google’s News Showcase:
“The parent company of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age has dismissed Google’s offer to pay media organisations with the launch of News Showcase in Australia, stating it would not negotiate with the tech giant before the news media code comes into effect.”
So it’s unclear whether or not Google’s overture will be enough to keep Australian lawmakers from backing Google into a corner from where Google has threatened to pack up and leave Australia.
Reaction in Australia
I asked Melbourne, Australia digital marketing expert Ash Nallawalla about this and he indicated that in his view the average Australian feels caught in the middle of a struggle between Google and the Australian government and that regardless of what Google says it will do the average Australian will still be able to access Google.
“The average Australian has shown little to no interest in what is seen as a struggle between two large entities – Google versus some TV companies and News Corporation. At best, many think that Google will no longer be available to them in any of its products.
Google is not threatening to block Aussie IP addresses and I doubt that Google dot com dot au will be shut down.
In a quick check I made, Google dot com was able to give me fairly usable local results to buy a pizza. There will not be a need to find another search engine.”
SEO Professional Nigel Mordaunt in New South Wales, Australia said that local businesses that depend on Google search are worried:
“Business owners are generally concerned as local businesses thrive from Google and are worried about how this could potentially impact their sales. Australian business owners love google and want it to stay.”
Mr. Mordaunt then commented from the viewpoint of the impact to digital marketing:
“As an SEO I think our country is being completely unreasonable. If the news stations really think it’s unfair they can noindex their article/post and not have it appear on the search engines.
Being on google is their choice. I praise google for working with the Australian government.
We were extremely worried about search being pulled as our current government is taking hard stances on many subjects within our country with regards to Google and other technology companies.”
Too Little Too Late?
Google News Showcase may prove to be not enough to placate the news organizations that blame Google for their loss of income.
But many news organizations have already signed up.
According to Google:
“Starting today, a growing number of Australian publishers, leading examples of the best of local and regional journalism, will be paid to provide content for News Showcase.
…As this early version of News Showcase rolls out, the partnerships will provide financial support for some of the country’s most respected independent, local and regional publications including The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, The New Daily, InDaily and The Conversation.
We are looking forward to bringing more Australian media partners on board in the coming weeks and months as we further build out the experience for publishers and users.”
Google is working to come to agreements with more Australian news organizations.
But it’s unclear those efforts are enough to stop Australian lawmakers from passing laws that would force Google to pay through legal channels rather than through negotiated agreements with individual news publishers.