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 Google News and Pay Walls

Google News and Pay Walls

December 9, 2009

Often people want up-to-date news on a global, regional and local scale. They might even want news tailored to their interests. It is always more reassuring to be given news from multiple sources rather than one, as it gives the impression of a more balanced and comprehensive view. This is the role of news aggregation services, such as Google News, which trawl the Internet and bring you the main headlines all on one page.

Google News has been running since 2002 and is becoming a desirable platform for news enthusiasts. But while Google is taking from multiple sources, not all the sources are pleased with having their content effectively ‘scraped’. The economy is in a downturn and it is becoming increasingly difficult for newspapers, involved in physical distribution, to stay viable. One of the ways for most broadsheets and tabloids to increase their revenue is to rely on their online presence to generate further advertising revenue for the paper.

The contention, however, is that Google is generating its own publicity on the back of the tremendous cost involved in credible journalism. Also, a Google search of a topical news issue brings with it Google’s own advertising which runs alongside the newspaper article search results. There is also the claim against Google News that its multi sourcing discourages brand loyalty and validates the notion that journalism ‘should be provided for free’. Google on the other hand, takes a different stance, explaining that Google News and web search are a ‘source of promotion for news organisations, sending them about 100,000 clicks per minute’ (see Telegraph article here).

This is not the first time that news providers have been at logger heads with the search engine giant. In 2005 Agence France Presse sued Google for £10m for scraping its web content (see here). But this time around it seems that there is an underlying discussion that is being alluded to: Rubert Murdoch said at the beginning of November “I think we will [remove our websites from Google’s search index] but that’s when we start charging”. Newspapers are battling with themselves about setting up subscriptions and ‘pay-walls’ to seek direct revenue from their online content. According to the Independent last Friday, Rupert Murdoch’s  ‘sabre-rattling [is] a bid to corral the whole industry into shunning the search engine and adopting the pay model”. In any case the newspaper industry may be heading that way without needing any impetus: at the beginning of last week Johnston Press, owing 286 titles, decided to place the online content of six of its local titles behind paywalls (See also Times article here).

Google has acknowledged the News Corp position and has revised the use of its ‘First Click Free’ system, which now allow users of Google News to click through to an article behind subscription walls, but then once the user is there he/she is unable to move to other links in the subscription area. Also, they have limited users from ‘jumping pay walls’ to 5 articles a day (please see here for details on Google News policy). This change of tone by Google may in part be due to its rival Bing (owned by Microsoft) entering talks with News Corp to pay for its news content on the condition that it ‘de-index’ its news sites from Google (Click here for FT article).