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Google News Showcase Launches in India - All You Need to Know

Editor, TRANSFIN
May 19, 2021 7:30 PM 5 min read
Editorial

Yesterday, Google launched its News Showcase product in India - a "new online experience and licensing programme for publishers to provide customisable news content [through] Google News and Discover". 

But Google does that already, doesn't it? What's different here? 

The difference is that unlike before, the tech giant will now pay publishers for “the opportunity” to display and distribute their content. May even pay a little extra for premium content otherwise placed behind a publisher’s own ‘paywall’ i.e. Readers may be able to read more of a publisher’s articles on Google than they would be able to do on their websites. In a way Google would cross-subsidise the end reader by paying the publisher on their behalf. 

So, in effect, news publishers would now get to license their content to Google. Moreover, Google would also allow them to decide what can be displayed and in what priority. 

The Big Tech firm has carved similar agreements with 700 news organisations (including 30 in India) in over a dozen countries. And it only plans to carve further, with the intention to spend over $1bn towards investments in partnerships with news publishers over three years. 

This agreement follows the precedent set by Google's (and Facebook's) recent standoff against the Australian government where a new legislation called the News Media Bargaining Code ultimately compelled Big Tech to change their ways of distributing digital content.

Let's see what brought Google's new-s approach into order (customary pun alert!) ;)

Google's Showcase Notice 

News organisations all over the world have been advocating for a fair revenue-sharing model with search engines (like Google) and social media sites (like Facebook) who have been cashing in on advertising revenues from the news publishers' content. 

In the UK, for instance, Google and Facebook have assumed a digital duopoly by pocketing close to 80% of all the digital advertising spending. In February, the Indian Newspaper Society urged Google to raise publisher share in ad revenue to 85% and disclose more details in the revenue reports it provides them. Even the EU announced its plans to set up a new Digital Market Unit to oversee a "pro-competition" regime for Big Tech providers.

But among all, Australia led the charge of restraining Big Tech and their unjust gains by drawing on legislative power. Facebook protested and blocked its news feed across the country for a few days. Google threatened to pull out its search engine. 

However, their strategies later took a diversion. Facebook agreed to negotiate "fair payment" for news content. Google went a step further and unveiled the News Showcase program. It started in Germany, Brazil and (you guessed it) Australia by enrolling a number of regionally significant publications and gradually expanded to other countries. 

This is how it works. A user who clicks on the Showcase links will be directed to the news organisation's websites. There, they could access content, including a portion of the paywalled content, which is intended to serve as a teaser for the reader and entice subscription. 

Giving publishers the opportunity to monetise their site traffic (following redirection from Google) through ads or subscription is the cornerstone of this venture. This is also a deviation from the pay-per-click advertising model used by news sites in the past to rack up viewership, at the cost of increasing junk traffic and promoting clickbait journalism. 

Is This Unprecedented?

Facebook actually started paying publishers for licensing back in June 2020 through its "News Tab" section, four months before Google decided to do the same via News Showcase. Originally limited to the US, News Tab has now spread to the UK too.

Big Tech's relationship with news businesses has been quite sloppy and dotted with controversies like inability to quell misinformation, election interference, violence on platforms, hate speech etc. So these latest offerings through news fees could also be an attempt by tech companies to increase their affiliation with credible and authentic news outlets. 

But the fact remains that Google and Facebook have turned into ad giants in the past several years with information sources moving largely online. Although they do help publishers by delivering traffic, they have long argued that paying news outlets for content violates the open source principle on which the web functions. 

News organisations differ. They say that the reason why they get paid peanuts is because of the power imbalance with Big Tech whose expanse and monopoly leaves little room for bargaining interests. 

And this is unfortunate, especially when you see even big media companies like Newscorp criticising Google and Facebook for years for evading payments in return for content. Rupert Murdoch even said that tech platforms paying news sites is similar to cable companies paying carriage fees for the channels they carry. 

 

When the Indian Paywall Came & Went

Indian news media has undergone very quiet and perceived changes over the last decade. As more and more readers move online and advertising revenue continues to outsize revenues from print circulation, many legacy news organisations have started moving their content behind paywalls.

 

In practice, the most commonly followed business model by Indian news sites is a combination of free and paywalled content where a certain number of stories are made available for free. It helps publishers attract more readers and a chance to retain them without losing a significant number in page views. 

But to achieve that, they require expansion in online presence and visibility. And that is where search engines and social media networks come in. Google will allow snippets of content from news publications on its site under the Showcase deals. This could be a good place to boost the digital presence of news sites and attract new subscribers.

But there are quite a few unknowns at play. Like details of the payment model. Even if traffic to news sites is increased, its passage through Google's network gives ample space for the search engine to benefit from advertisements itself. So how much of those benefits is Google actually sharing?

Secondly, media diversity in India is far from ideal, with a handful of entities owning entire bundles of channels, sites and newspapers. So the selection criteria of organisations that feature on Google's platform requires more scrutiny. Google's commitment towards supporting "thriving journalism" may get shaky if smaller news outlets, who are in greater need of financing, are left out of selection.

In an age where independent journalism is getting drowned out by the out-shouting matches and poorly-moderated content published by several sources, a one-stop curated news platform like the one offered by Google, could perhaps help salvage declining news literacy around the world.  

FIN.
 

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