Well, surprise, surprise. In the long running battle between government and big tech, that’s another win for the away team.
In 2014, Google shut down Google News in Spain, because the country had the temerity to try and charge Google for aggregating news stories. The idea was that Google would have to pay a fee for any headlines, images and intro texts scraped from news sites, to try and help an industry decimated by the move from print to an online world where free content is the norm.
Google balked at this idea, and just pulled its News feature out of Spain altogether. It threatened similar retaliation to the EU in a not so subtle way when Europe was considering adopting similar legislation. The subtext was very much “nice business model you’ve got there; would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Without the steady stream of traffic Google News provided, Spanish newspapers suffered severely. But now Google News is coming back to provide some life to an industry it beat to within an inch of its life.
That’s not thanks to Google deciding that maybe it should redistribute some of its wealth to newspapers in an era where fake news has horrendous real world consequences, you understand. It’s because Spain has changed the law, allowing search engines to negotiate their own fees with publishers, without having to pay a blanket fee to every outlet it features.
That means that Google can fill its news bar with sites desperate enough for traffic that they waive the fee altogether if it wants. Although the company’s blog post says it will be working with publishers to “reach agreements which cover their rights under the new law,” it’s not hard to figure out which side of the negotiation holds almost all the power.
Spanish publishers will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief, as ad money generated from web traffic is better than no ad money generated from web traffic. But they should probably take a moment to reflect on exactly how powerless they are in the face of big tech — no matter how many platitudes companies make about the importance of journalism.