Readers of this column know I’m sympathetic to publishers and continually look for news and information that will help them thrive. However, I'm not entirely convinced that revenue-sharing arrangements with digital ad giants like Google are sustainable, without clarifying how value is exchanged between the company and publishers.
Google has a near-monopoly on internet search, a status it achieved by providing excellent service for free to billions of people. There are alternative ways to find information on the internet by using other search engines, like Bing or DuckDuckGo, but those rivals haven't gained more than a sliver of the "horizontal search" market, as general interest searches are known.
Google faces stronger competition in "vertical search," such as when people first visit Amazon instead of Google Shopping to find products to buy, or book a trip on Priceline instead of Google Flights.
When it comes to news, only about 1% of searches in Australia are related to current events, the company claims. That slim percentage astounds me, considering I'm always using Google to look up news and information for work.
That dependence is also terrifying -- Google effectively controls much of the news I read. Changes to Google's indexing algorithm can reduce the likelihood I visit a news website. The power to drive website visits makes Google an essential tool for publishers that monetize web traffic with various kinds of advertising.
The key issue for publishers is whether Google dissuades people from visiting their sites, and benefits from showing snippets of their copyrighted material in search results. However, publishers need to show headlines and story descriptions to grab reader attention, weakening the argument that Google is unfairly using copyrighted material.
A more persuasive argument can be found in a recent white paper from the News Media Alliance, which represents more than 2,000 news organizations in the U.S. Among the claims in its report about how Google harms publishers, it found that Google a variety of snippets from various news sources, giving readers just enough information about a story to satisfy their need to read any further.
If that's the case, then the value that Google provides to publishers is greatly diminished. Otherwise, Google can make a strong case that it helps publishers more than it harms them.