By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The standoff in Australia shows why Google needs news more than Facebook does

I’m hardly the first person to make this observation, but there’s a reason that Google is trying to accommodate Australian news publishers while Facebook is fighting them tooth and nail: Google needs news much more than Facebook does. The New York Times puts it this way:

Facebook and Google ultimately value news differently. Google’s mission statement has long been to organize the world’s information, an ambition that is not achievable without up-to-the-minute news. For Facebook, news is not as central. Instead, the company positions itself as a network of users coming together to share photos, political views, internet memes, videos — and, on occasion, news articles.

Writing at the Columbia Journalism Review, Mathew Ingram notes that news makes up only 5% of the content on Facebook’s News Feed, at least according to the company.

While I have no problem with publishers trying to extract some revenues from the two tech giants, I’m disheartened to see that Google is trying to buy its way out of trouble in Australia by cutting deals with the likes of Rupert Murdoch. This shouldn’t be a matter of buying off critics and then resuming business as usual.

That’s why I prefer an idea put forth by the tech analyst Benedict Evans in a conversation with Ingram: help fund news by taxing Google and Facebook. At least theoretically, that could lead to a more equitable distribution of revenues to large and small publishers alike.

Regardless of what the road ahead looks like, though, it’s clear that Facebook is going to be harder to deal with than Google. The Zuckerborg just doesn’t need journalism as much.


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  1. Marcus Breen

    The better option would be a tax: of course Dan. The compromise, especially when it involves a negotiation with News will favor them and their rapacious ilk with a conservative solution that empowers the already powerful – News Corp. a firm with a long anti-tax record against the public interest (which informs taxation ideology).I agree with you and Ingram on the benefits of a general welfare approach – a tax. Here’s reporting from Australia – The Sydney Morning Herald. Note references to small independent Australian media firms having cut deals before News Corp.

  2. MagellanNH

    As I understand it, these deals all revolve around Google’s new “News Showcase” initiative, which is separate from normal google search. So while I could be wrong, I don’t think the payments are for the right to link to news content in Google’s normal search engine. Rather, they seem to be payments for the right to republish news site content on Google’s News Showcase (and I think also share ad revenue).

    Dan may have a point that this could just be a case of Google buying off critics. OTOH, Google News Showcase seems like a legitimate new Google initiative. It’s tough to tell if Google is serious about it or about truly forming partnerships with news organizations. It could just be a “hey look at this shiny object over here” type of ploy. Google is famous for making a big splash with announcements of bold new initiatives that go nowhere.

    So I may be wrong, but I’m not sure this news is as big of a cave by Google as some of the reporting I’m seeing is indicating.

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