News Publishers Have Stronger Case Against Google

  • by June 24, 2020
Publisher complaints about Google have grown more pointed as the Justice Department investigates the search giant for possible anti-competitive practices. While I've expressed my doubts about some of those grievances, a recent report from a news trade group makes a more convincing case for how Google harms publishers.

The News Media Alliance, which represents more than 2,000 news organizations in the U.S., last week published a white paper that provides more concrete examples of how Google allegedly interferes with the digital operations of publishers.

Among its claims, the trade group says Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format was foisted on news publishers with an implied threat — their websites wouldn't show up in search results. Google caches a copy of AMP articles sent to mobile readers, interfering with a publisher's ability to monetize its content through paid subscriptions or advertising, according to the report.



The group also says the Google News aggregation app competes with apps that newspapers develop to reach mobile readers directly. Google News has a carousel format that provides a varied collection of images and snippets about a topic from news sources such as the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Those snippets collectively cover the most important parts of a story, removing any need to visit a news site, according to the report. It's not clear how much traffic to news websites is lost, but the business ramifications for publishers could be significant.

Google has pushed backed against publishers claiming they've been harmed, arguing it doesn't monetize news snippets that appear in Google News or in search results. However, if readers are given less of a reason to visit a newspaper website, the publisher loses an opportunity to monetize its digital content.

The News Media Alliance's report comes amid heightened scrutiny of Google's business practices. The company acts as a gatekeeper to about 90% of advertising space websites sell programmatically, according to an academic paper that outlined a possible antitrust case against Google.

Another study with potential repercussions for Google found that only 51% of ad spend reaches digital media outlets and 15% vanishes somewhere in the programmatic supply chain.

The News Media Alliance goes a step further in making demands that Google change its business practices. But those reforms may require a negotiated settlement with antitrust authorities or a court order.

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