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Google will pay publishers to “support a sustainable news industry”

First Facebook offered to pay publishers “millions of dollars”. Now Google is following suit. 

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti predicted almost a decade ago that major tech firms—such as Facebook and Google—would ultimately pay publishers for content, the same way cable companies pay television content producers for shows.

You have to have some quality journalism,” Peretti said recently, “or the vacuum will be filled by counterfeit journalism.” Google is echoing a very similar sentiment.

We want to help people find quality journalism – it’s important to informed democracy and helps support a sustainable news industry. 

Richard Gingras, VP of News at Google

“We care deeply about this,” Gingras added, “and are talking with partners and looking at more ways to expand our ongoing work with publishers, building on programmes like our Google News Initiative.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is in talks with publishers about paying a licensing fee for content in a “premium” news product. Possible licensing agreements are being considered, and the content would appear in a free Google product, the details of which are still being hammered out.

“Exploratory discussions with media groups including Le Monde and Le Figaro have touched on developing new products that would include financial deals to license news,” says Financial Times’s Alex Barker. “Google has also talked to some US media groups about the plans.”

In an earnings call last week, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson mentioned there are “positive signs” Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai “has a thoughtful appreciation for the profound social influence of high-quality journalism.” Earlier, Thomson also praised Facebook’s initiative to pay publishers as a “powerful precedent that will echo around editorial newsrooms”.

“Licensing deals between Google and news organizations for its news product would be a watershed moment for publishers, who have long sought compensation from the search giant,” said WSJ’s Benjamin Mullin. “Google sends news organizations huge amounts of traffic each month through its search engine but has so far resisted paying news organizations for their content directly.”

“Google and Facebook still collect most advertising revenue, leaving publishers to have to figure out new moneymaking strategies,” noted The Verge’s Ashley Carman. “Licensing fees don’t make up for that ad revenue loss.”

The search giant has already experimented with paying publishers. Last year, it began licensing audio news from publishers like The Associated Press, CNN, ABC, Cheddar, Fox News Radio, PBS, Reuters, WYNC, and a number of local radio stations.

Any new Google products as a result of the discussions are likely to be narrowly focused, either by type of publisher or form of content, said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, to the Financial Times. 

Given that there are many publishers competing for attention . . . it seems most likely that any licensing deals will be for a small subset of truly premium publishers.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute

I think every internet platform has a responsibility to help fund and support news,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested last year. “Hopefully others will follow the model we are helping to set up.”

Apple has done exactly that, although it’s still finding its feet with Apple News+. Now it’s Google’s turn. Exciting times.

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