On the 16th December 2014 Google pulled their Google News service in Spain.
This was reported – albeit superficially – by the Spanish media in a way that seemed to suggest that this was somehow the callous corporate giant somehow snubbing the Spanish speaking world. That the arrogant Americans had “done it again”… but the truth is a little way from this interpretation.
What actually happened is that Spain shot itself in the foot. Big time.
There is no doubt that print media are struggling. this is happening all over the world. How can you continue to make money reporting the news one day at a time when everyone else is updating by the second. How can you engage your readers with stories that are hours, sometimes days old? When someone can read about an event on twitter as it happens, or watch live video from a news helicopter – how are newspapers supposed to survive?
The simple answer is they are not. Don’t get me wrong – I do not for one moment think that there is no longer a place for newspapers. But they are not supposed to survive by some kind of divine right. No, instead they must carve out their place within the mix. And what they can bring to the table that others cannot includes quality editorial comment, investigative journalism, excellent writinh and intelligent analysis. And, often they do.
Not quite so, the press owners and managers.
The Google News service compiles stories from around each country and presents a digest for anyone wishing to get a quick overview of what is happening. Like going to the local newspaper kiosk and taking a quick flick through the headlines. If a user is interested in reading more they can follow the link back to the source.
Seems like a good idea, right? And surely it helps drive readers to the newspaper’s websites – and maybe from there to their papers.
But the Spanish media didn’t see it in quite this light. They saw two scenarios. In the first, they saw their readerships dwindling and at the same time they were facing the same production costs as always, if not higher. No-one questions the cost of quality journalism. The other scenario was of Google providing a news service – for which they had paid nothing whilst being the richest company in the world with what appears to be a limitless ability to generate income.
A massive cash cow, if you like.
So the Spanish press pressured the Spanish government to introduce legislation to levy a charge against Google for using the material on their websites in their news service. After all, if Google are going to make all this money on the back of simply indexing the work done and paid for by these newspapers, surely they should be entitled to their share.
Not so. Google looked at the charges and decided to simply close the service.
The Spanish press didn’t expect this. Why would they? Surely, they thought, Google need us more than we need them.
Well apparently not. And along with the revenue the media thought they deserved, so too have disappeared the links that Google were using to push users to the news sites.
And, somehow, this is Google’s fault.
It’s not. If you want to the world’s biggest search engine to list your content, they will do that – as a part of their service to their users. But don’t expect them to pay for the privilege of sharing your content with the world. If anything, expect them to charge you for doing so.
It is likely that this new legislation will be repealed in record time as the Spanish media recognise the errors of their ways. It will then be up to Google to decide if they will reinstate the Spanish news service.
In the meantime print media around the country must look to survive in a world of instant news and online opinion. Those that can will become focal points for public opinion. Those that cannot will sit, like Luddites, complaining about how the world is moving on without them.