Google + publishers: Push me, pull you

Alternatives to Murdoch’s Google strategy are emerging. The New York Times reports that Christoph Keese, head of public affairs and ‘architect of online strategy’at Springer wants to work with ‘Internet companies’to build a ‘one-click marketplace solution’for paid content.

Google or other Internet gateways would display links to newspaper articles, videos and other content from a variety of providers, as search engines do now. But some of the items would include something new: a price tag.

Meh: not terribly exciting at first glance. But this seems slightly more interesting:

Should Google and Facebook be forced to pay publishers for content?

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Josh Cohen, senior business product manager at Google, said an online marketplace like the one envisioned by Mr. Keese was an ‘obvious extension’of the company’s previously announced plans to create an Internet store for digital books.

Google Books? Springer books? Google News? Paid content? Are we talking about content hosted and sold by Google on behalf of publishers? Google as a retail channel?

Surely not. But in the end, there’s no clarity: Josh Cohen, the overlord of Google News, brings down the shutters quickly, offering up the usual boilerplate: ‘It’s safe to say it’s a global discussion going on with a number of publishers. Publishers are still in the exploratory stages of this.”

We don’t know what News Corporation is up to behind the scenes. Yet Springer appears to be both collaborating with Google and kicking its ass.

For one thing, German publishers seem unafraid of playing the anti-competition card (something that News Corporation has chosen not to emphasise in its campaign against Google):

Publishers say pulling their contents out of Google News, or the search engine, is not a fair choice because of the company’s powerful position on the Internet, leaving them with nowhere else to go; in Germany, Google accounts for roughly 80 percent of Internet searches.

In addition, Angela Merkel’s government has promised an extension of copyright law that would prevent search engines from using text snippets in search results without paying royalties. According to the Times, the proposal has ‘broad support’among German publishers. No wonder.

In the end, we’re looking at the music royalties model. The Times reports that aggregators and search engines ‘might be required to buy licenses, much as restaurants, nightclubs or hair salons now need licenses to play recorded music”. A new rights body — much like Performing Rights Society — would carve up the euros and dollars.

Unworkable? Who knows? Deliverable? Probably not. Techdirt is deeply sceptical, suggesting that the proposal was ‘really designed to gain the current ruling party a bit of support from the mainstream press in Germany”.

Which seems to me to be the point. Google excels at flattering politicians. But newspaper publishers excel at frightening them. The latter technique is far superior.

In all of this, the level of emerging collaboration between rival media organisations is intriguing. The Wall Street Journal reports that Springer is going it alone, but the FT suggests that many others are working together:

Some of the nation’s largest print houses – such as Axel Springer, M. DuMont Schauberg, Verlagsgruppe Georg Von Holtzbrinck and WAZ Mediengruppe – are in initial talks about how to sell content on the web.

For English-speakers, there’s the (still somewhat mysterious) JV involving Conde Nast, Hearst, News Corp, Time Inc and Meredith.

Interesting times. Is the lay of the land shifting beneath Google’s feet? On certain days, it almost feels that way. . .



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