The Indian Newspaper Society today wrote to Google asking it to compensate Indian newspapers comprehensively for the use of their content and to share details of its advertising revenues.

In a letter to Google India country manager Sanjay Gupta, INS president L Admiloolam said that Google should increase publisher share of advertising revenue to 85 percent. This is, in fact, the first such demand raised of Google in the country.

Globally, sharing of revenue with news media publishers by tech giant Google is causing quite a stir. In the past few months, we have seen the Australian government struck out at Facebook and Google, two of the biggest global technology giants. They pointed out how the tech majors stand in a position where they can abuse their market power and decided to take action so that the news media in their country gets the rightful share of the revenue. Google is now cutting deals with news publishers in Australia.

This week, Facebook announced that it would restore the sharing of news links by users and news publishers in the coming days after it struck a deal with the Australian government. This means that Facebook would once again allow users and news publishers in the country to share and post links to news articles.

Last week, Facebook had banned all users and news publishers based in Australia from posting links to news on the platform. The ban also impacted pages of Australian hospitals, charities, government organisations which found their pages had been wiped clean.

Following the steps taken by the Australian government, many reports suggest that the Canadian government is also considering the imposition of restrictions on revenue sharing between technology companies and news publications.

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In France, Google has signed agreements with six French print publications, including Le Monde and Le Figaro. There is also expected a domino effect of this development in some of the other countries in the EU.

There’s growing support for a law that allows collective bargaining by the news industry to make tech giants pay for news content in the US. “Lets put some history on this. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal decided that its content was stolen by Google news. And they got a paywall down on them. Their revenue back then was $50 million. Later, Murdoch acquired and took the paywall across the Atlantic and brought it to The Times in London.

A few years later, German publishers, Axel Springer decided to put a paywall and give Google nothing accept the headlines. But despite being the largest publishing company, Axel Springer caved in four days against the might of Google. So this battle is not new,  says Paritosh Joshi, an Independent Media Consultant.

India is one of the largest democracies in the world and fares as a critically important user market for tech giants such as Google and Facebook.  While the country adopted and embraced everything digital, including the consumption of digital news during this pandemic, news media in the country had to suffer massive losses in revenue, leading to job-cuts and salary cuts. Wouldn’t it make sense for Indian publishers and the government to direct a fair share of this revenue to stricken publications across India?

More importantly, why can’t Google and Facebook not consider a uniform, universal revenue-sharing model for all news publications, which have largely lost out on advertisement revenues to the global technology giants? “My own view is that there has to be commercial discussion and a commercial agreement needs to arrive. It has to be different in different markets,” says Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Denstu APAC.

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So far, the argument that Facebook and Google have put across globally is how they are the best sources of free traffic to many publishers. But, one also needs to consider what is social media without finding and sharing information.

Especially during times like these, the top searches on platforms like Google are the latest news and updates on COVID-19 or the vaccine, for that matter. And the most credible source of this information is news media. When the spread of misinformation on digital is rampant, the diligence of a newsroom brings its credibility.

“All types of publishers are facing an intrusive administrative mechanism. And at the same time, they have to keep up their journalistic standards. They cannot do both if they don’t have money. They can’t fight legal battles and deliver quality news without money,” adds Joshi.

The INS letter also stated how newspapers employ thousands of journalists on the ground at considerable cost for gathering information and that this content was not just proprietary but gave Google its ‘authenticity in India.’ The letter also noted that there is a huge distinction between editorial content from quality publications and fake news that is spreading on other information platforms.

So what is required to make these tech giants relent in India? And do we need intervention from the government and regulators as well? “I am very wary of Government intervention since whenever that has happened, it has to lead to only ‘license Raj’ and all of that. Only the industry needs to sit across the table and discuss this, and it is already happening,” says Bhasin.

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But Joshi says he is not sanguine about the market forces. “Market forces makes sense in the situation of parity. If I am comparable in size, then we can talk about market forces. But the problem is that if you took the entire Indian Publication industry, including Broadcast, Print, etc. The aggregate of this entire Indian media industry is smaller than either of these two players.” He also cited how YouTube had the exact same issue with TV publishers and Filmmakers until they simply said, “we will take all our rights, and you will have nothing to display.

“So an industry came together, and they got the backing of various jurisdictions. Commercial discussion can happen, but I think legislative support will give spine to the person coming to the table,” he adds.

Currently, there is a lack of clarity on how much percentage of revenue share goes to the publishers. But, INS in the press release has insisted that Google increase the publisher share of advertising revenue to 85 percent and ensure more transparency in the revenue reports provided to publishers by Google.

“Publishers have no visibility of how many impressions their content is generating. This content is not bound by national borders. A newspaper like The Hindu, for example, is the same in India to anywhere in the world,” says Joshi.



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