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The pay for news rollercoaster continues as Google is fined $590 million USD in France

Recently Google was fined a fine of about 500 million Euro in France by the country’s Competitions Authority known as the FCA. Their crime? Refusing to pay “fairly” for the news snippets from various French publishers that are shown as part of the Google News page.

Back in 2019, the European Union passed a law known as the Copyright Directive which was quickly adopted by France. A part of the law, known as Article 11 or the “link tax” gives publishers the right to ask for payment from search engines like Google if the search engine shows snippets of their news articles in Google News. It’s the equivalent of a company demanding to be paid by a directory company in order to be featured in that directory. Outrageous if you ask me.

The internet builds and destroys

The internet has been a godsend to millennials and later generations. It has provided us with opportunities that no one could have dreamt of at the turn of the millennia. Back then all people could think of when it came to computers was the Y2K bug. Nowadays we have jobs like social media influencers, we have streaming giants like Netflix, social media sites like Instagram that give unparalleled power to consumers to interface with brands.

The truth though is that not everyone has benefited from this rise in internet penetration and speeds. Those who have suffered include traditional media houses that owned and operated giant media corporations, movie theatres and movie rental companies like Blockbuster. Lots of newspapers have closed as they have struggled to find viable monetisation strategies in today’s world.

Even powerful media houses like New York Times, Nypost, Time Magazine, Financial Times, Economist, The Guardian, the UK’s Telegraph have all struggled to make the same money as they used to in times past. It’s not just in Zimbabwe where people simply don’t want to pay for news. It’s a worldwide thing. Not only are people unwilling to pay for subscriptions these news companies have to compete with search engines for revenue as well. A lot of businesses now prefer targeted online advertisements compared to dumb newspaper ads.

We have seen these issues in Zimbabwe too. Traditional giants like Zimpaper’s Herald and H-Metro have flirted with various monetisation models to no avail. At one point they tried showing news snippets with directives telling people to buy the physical paper if they wanted the full story. Upstart blogs would simply have their people wake up early in the morning, buy these papers and publish the stories on their sites wholesale and get all the SEO boost.

The papers are teaming up with politicians

Faced with such an existential threat the Luddites in charge of these papers simply cried out to their friends in high places-the politicians. It seems political leaders are obliging. We first saw it in Australia and now it’s France. Governments are now compelling companies like Google and Facebook to pay for news articles shown or shared on their platforms.

The argument is that the new players are pilfering revenue by unfairly publishing content and thereby benefiting from advertising revenue that would have traditionally gone to the papers. There are however a number of problems with this pay for snippets/shares model:

  • How do you determine a fair payment for snippets?
  • How do you determine who gets to receive the payment?
  • News is universal, how do you determine what snippet gets paid for in a particular country?

Right now it seems Rupert Murdoch and his giant media corporation (News Corp) are the biggest beneficiaries of this pay for links scheme. The whole mantra that it will save small struggling publications is just a lie. There is really no rationale to making Google, Facebook and others pay for snippets as the above questions will almost certainly never receive a definitive answer.

Personally, I think natural evolution should be allowed to have its course. What politicians are doing is no different to what the politicians used to do when the motor car made its debut. Horse cart makes and operators tried to impede its progress by having people walk in front of it waving flags and many other similar measures. That didn’t go anywhere.

This whole pay for links arrangement is futile. Understandable but futile nevertheless.


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2 thoughts on “The pay for news rollercoaster continues as Google is fined $590 million USD in France

  1. Did Google try turning it off and on again? It would have been interesting to see what the metrics would look like for the news sites once their links weren’t surfaced on Google.

    1. That is the catch. Google’s goal is to provide the best search results. If Google doesn’t list the best news it gives readers a bad experience which weakens Google’s brand and revenue. Google cannot just turn off / delist good search results and big news publishers know it. This is essentially a cartel tax on Google. They have no option but to negotiate or pay.

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