June 27, 2016 Last Updated 4:05 pm

No ‘right to compensation’ for content, as the courts continually remind European publishers

Lawyers representing German publishers, including Axel Springer and 40 other publishers, continue to seek a court ruling that might force Google to pay them for the article snippets displayed in Google News

We produce content, so we should be paid for it. Right? Well, that’s the common refrain we hear today from many publishers, and no doubt the reason German publishers are appealing their case against Google. Their content shows up in Google News with no compensation whatsoever (ignoring, of course, the traffic sent their way that translates into ad revenue).

The idea that content equals revenue is silly, and should be put to bed permanently. So is the idea that having an audience equals revenue, something the big magazine publishers appear to be testing out right now.

There are three legs to the publishing table, the third one being the effort one puts in to sell marketers that audience attracted to the content.

This is a lesson that German publishers are not alone in ignoring. The New York Times is doubling and tripling down on their paid content strategy, with chief executive Mark Thompson announcing plans to launch an advertising-free digital access option. It’s current digital offerings have stalled, with current subscribers daily assaulted with offers to upgrade their subscription level, told daily that today really is the last day for whatever new offer the paper is selling. It’s not the last day, and every subscriber knows it. The paper looks increasingly desperate.

What the paid content cult wants is an automatic pay mechanism put in place whereby newspapers and other publishers create the content and Google and other search engines then pay them for the right to link or display snippets of content.

It is not, it should be noted, that they want Google to have to pay, and if they do not, stop linking to them. They want both the links and the money.

Frédéric Filloux, editor of Monday Note, recalled the recent history of the battles with Google, where Google wouldn’t play along and simply eliminated the content of publishers when they demanded payment:

In Spain, when a law forced Google to pay for linked content, the search engine shut down its local Google News, and the Spanish press disappeared from its index. Spanish website traffic plunged by about 20%. In addition, the collection system was never properly implemented—publishers never got a cent from anyone linking to their content. A lose-lose proposition.

Two years ago, Germany passed a similar law, with a similar ending: Google quit indexing German media, traffic plummeted. Publishers came back, hat in hand, begging to be referenced again.

The courts must look at publishers and wonder what planet they think they are on. If they want to be left out of Google News say so, but you can’t have it both ways. Everyone knows how the Internet works, and no publisher was forced to launch a website and play by the rules, they opted in. You want to be a digital publisher, then deal with the fact that there are third parties involved, just as there are in print.

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