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Google Strikes Deal with French Government Regarding Online Content

Posted Feb 22 2013 12:00am

I have posted previous notes about the question of whether Google is a search engine and news consolidator or a publisher of content (see: When Does Sophisticated Web Search Result in the Creation of New Content?Google as an Enabler and Protector of Global Information Exchang e;  Is Google a Publisher or a Search Engine? Can Google Have It Both Ways?Google's Deal with Publishers; Broad Current Acceptance of E-Books ). According to a recent article, this question has been sorted out, for the time being, in France (see: French Publishers Forge Deal With Google, Breaking Ranks With Europe ). Below is an excerpt from the article:

Publishers in France say they have struck an innovative agreement with Google on the use of their content online. Their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, however, say the French gave in too easily to the Internet giant.The deal was signed this month by President François Hollande of France and Eric E. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, who called it a breakthrough in the tense relationship between publishers and Google, and as a possible model for other countries to follow. Under the deal, Google agreed to set up a fund, worth 60 million euroes, or $80 million, over three years, to help publishers develop their digital units. The two sides also pledged to deepen business ties, using Google’s online tools, in an effort to generate more online revenue for the publishers, who have struggled to counteract dwindling print revenue. But the French group, representing newspaper and magazine publishers with an online presence, as well as a variety of other news-oriented Web sites, yielded on its most important demand: that Google and other search engines and “aggregators” of news should start paying for links to their content. Google, which insists that its links provide a service to publishers by directing traffic to their sites, had fiercely resisted any change in the principle of free linking. The agreement dismayed members of the European Publishers Council, a lobbying group in Brussels, which has been pushing for a fundamental change in the relationship between publishers and Google. The group criticized the French publishers for breaking ranks and striking a separate business agreement that has no statutory standing. The deal “does not address the continuing problem of unauthorized reuse and monetization of content, and so does not provide the online press with the financial certainty or mechanisms for legal redress which it needs to build sustainable business models and ensure its continued investment in high-quality content,” Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the publishers council, said in a statement. German publishers were also scornful, with Anja Pasquay, a spokeswoman for the German Newspaper Publishers’ Association, saying: “Obviously the French position isn’t one that we would favor. This is not the solution for Germany.”

A few comments about this article. First of all, $80 million dollars over three years to keep the French publishers relatively satisfied strikes me as very good news for Google. The amount is trivial for Google and serves to drive a wedge into the European publishing industry on the basis of the French accommodation. I am not surprised that the European Publishers Council and the Germans expressed regret about the deal. So much for European unity. Every country will be trying to strike the best perceived deal for itself.

Secondly, how likely do any of you readers think that Google will be able to help the French publishers in any substantive way to "develop their digital units." I suspect that much of the European book and newspaper industry is either not knowledgeable about the web or resistant to learning any new tricks from the "Silicon Valley" types. Google is buying a temporary hiatus from the French until digital publishing is even more entrenched. Most content publishing will soon be digital. The European newspaper, magazine, and book publishers need to understand this reality and come to view Google as an ally, not an enemy, in the process of monetizing their content going forward. They are swimming upstream.

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