After spending the better part of the last decade suffocated all possible cents from the digital media industry, Google is finally getting the warmth it deserves. More and more people are realize the company’s monopoly over digital advertising is one of the culprits behind a staggering number of layoffs in the newsroom. Regulators are aware that this digital dominance can be serious antitrust issues. Combined, this means a massive headache for Google, which in the company’s eyes can be solved with one thing: a decent payout.
The company’s latest attempt to regain some goodwill among publishers is a three-year billion-dollar partnership that is moving towards the company’s latest product, the Google News Showcase. CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled Showcase in a the company’s blog post earlier today, promising that it would highlight the “editorial curation of award-winning newsrooms” while helping these newsrooms manifest “deeper relationships” with their readers.
Showcase debuts first in the stand-alone Google News app for Android, with an accompanying rollout for iOS users coming “soon”. As the name suggests, the app is literally starting to “showcase” today’s top stories as one carousel during the app’s personal daily briefing. Next to the headlines, these stories will show summaries of that story, related articles and more. And according to Pichai’s post, similar showcase-y features are set to come to Google Discover feed and search engine “in the future.”
I know it sounds pretty much like the average app that most of us use to read news on our phone right now. But Pichai wants you to believe that Showcase – which is being tested with about 200 “leading publications” across Canada, the EU and Latin America before a broader rollout in the future – is not just news. That is it the future of news:
The business model for newspapers – based on advertising and subscription revenue – has evolved over more than a century as audiences have turned to other sources of news, including radio, television and later, the proliferation of cable television and satellite radio.
The subtitle here is that Google owns a piece of every part of the ecosystems that Pichai donated. As we began to turn to podcasts for more of our news, Google adjusted its advertising systems to accommodate them. hyper-targeted audio ads. As we started getting more of our news through our smart TVs, these systems started to adopt TV targeting features, also. And when authorities in countries across the Atlantic forced Google’s hand to provide the publishers a major cut in their advertising money, the company has proven that it is not over threatens to break its own news products for the region in return.
With the Showcase announcement, Google seems to be under the impression that it’s enough to give publishers a shiny new packaging for stories and call it a “separate approach” to distract us – and regulators – from the ways in which its business model seems to be sink any news source before our eyes.
The cut that Google typically takes from a given affiliate publisher is a closely guarded secret, however last year, the company opened the black box slightly to reveal that publishers generally earn approx. 69 cents for every dollar an advertiser spends on their site. According to Google’s own support page describes its publisher-facing platform, the company takes an even bigger cut from stories that may appear in Google’s search engine, with only 51% going back to that publisher.
And of course for people who want to pay to support their local news sites, Google encourages its publishing partners allow readers to subscribe with their google accountand promises them that technology typically delivers one severe uptick to subscription numbers. But when these readers subscribe through this system, the company takes a 30% cut of the cash paid by the reader for the first year and 15% for each year thereafter.
While we alone can not calculate what Google might gain from the media industry in general (though people have tried), we know how much Google raked from advertising recently: 2019 investor documents from the parent company Alphabet, reports that Google pulls about $ 98 billion in revenue that year from “search and other” advertising.
Think about it in terms of what it offers publishers: $ 1 billion, spread over three years for a total amount of just over $ 333 million per year. It’s not just a drop in Google’s huge bucket of money, but it’s unlikely to even go where it’s most needed. While Pichai’s blog on Showcase promises that this amount will be targeted at “high quality” publishers, so they can display their “high quality” content, the two biggest advertising giants of our time – Google and Facebook – have proven that they do not understand what phrase actually means. In 2019, Facebook’s dedicated news tab slid Breitbart‘s stories among those who were considered to be of high quality and reliable. LGBTQ-focused sites that use Facebook or Google tools to keep their lights on have found their stories incorrectly marked as pornographic or obscene and demonized – or eventually closed-as a result. Ditto for outlets aimed at Black or Latinx readers, since advertisers tend to earmark any story that involves critical conversations about race or immigration as too “controversial” for their brands – and their money. It is these small paper cuts that over time form massive bleeding wounds (or indeterminate furrows) for the publications involved.
I could go on here, but instead let’s look at Pichai’s concluding remarks on the Showcase announcement when he calls digital media “the latest shift” in the way we consume our news:
The Internet has been the latest shift, and it certainly will not be the last. Alongside other companies, governments and civil society, we will play our part by helping 21st century journalism not just survive but thrive.
The kind of shtick Google has pulled here and abroad do not point to a company that wants journalism to thrive, period. It points to a company that wants to thrive with the backs of journalistsand want these journalists to take the bad payout is it offers in return. Personally, I think we are better than that.