Newspaper Associations: Trying To Swim Against The Tide?
Recently, the Belgian Association of Newspaper Editors won a civil complaint against Google (see MSNBC). A court order called for the search giant to cease publishing content from Belgian newspapers without permission or fee payments, and imposing fines of over $1 million per day if Google failed to comply. There is also more on this story at the Google blog.
As the MSNBC article points out, Google is also battling a similar issue with the French courts. Emboldened by these actions, Reuters reports the World Association of Newspapers is now looking at how it can more tightly control what content search engines can use. This is tilting at windmills.
The above mentioned publishers and newspaper associations are failing to see the forest for the trees here. Many online newspaper sites are visited as the result of a Google search or an RSS feed pointing there. Marketers want to purchase online advertising on the most frequented websites, so why on earth would the Belgian newspaper editors look to cut off search engines that reference their sites. If Google was reproducing their stories word-for-word and stealing ad revenues from the content’s source, I could understand it. However, Google searches and RSS feeds usually provide just enough information to let readers know whether or not to click the source site for more information.
Google News has stopped indexing the Belgian sites, but has defended its actions under the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law. Traditional newspapers are feeling the pinch as the Web, citizen journalism, blogs and other sources are competing for reader attention. However, biting off the hand that feeds you will simply hasten starvation.
As Editor and Publisher, one of the newspaper industry’s own journals, points out, newspapers must win online. You don’t win online by cutting off your referrers. In addition, consumers need some sort of Web filter to help them understand what is relevant to the task at hand. If there were no search engines or RSS readers to aggregate, organize and summarize content, the Web would be a messy place. It would be like trying to get a drink from a fire hose.
Search will not go away. It is far too useful. If people want to wall off their content behind paywalls and permissions, that is their prerogative, but they may soon find their shortsightedness has them swimming against a powerful tide of online transformation. In fact, Monday at the Online Marketing, Media and Advertising Conference (OMMA) in New York, a panel of big media heavyweights asked an important question: “Can media companies evolve fast enough [to adapt to changes brought about by the Web]?” It is a pertinent issue.
Referring to the newspaper industry, I believe it was Bill Clinton who said: “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” The newspaper industry is a powerful force, but they are bucking an online trend that is even more powerful. The stories that newpaper publishers provide on an international, national, regional and local basis is deserving of protection. They have a right to get paid for that content, but not from search engines. However, to monetize their investment in the material they create, it would be far better to use the Web than fight it. That includes letting companies like Google use a reasonable amount of information to point and link to their content when it is relevant, interesting and useful.