Why Wasn’t The AP Able To Get A Better Deal From Google?

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The Associated Press and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) finally came to terms on a new deal this week that lets Google News continue to host AP articles on its site. The AP told us it was “pleased” with the agreement — but it’s not exactly clear what the AP actually gained from Google after so many years of bluster.

The AP had spent the previous three years loudly declaring that when its deals with the big internet companies came up for renewal it would get more from them — or not bother renewing the agreements. AP CEO Tom Curley, for instance, said in November 2007 that the “portals are running off with our best stuff, and we’re afraid or unable to make or enforce deals that drive fair value.” During the same talk, he said news organizations “should be doing whatever it takes to get a fair deal even if they must swallow some decades-long enmities and partner for more clout.”

More recently, Curley had floated several specific ideas for getting more from the AP’s relationships with the big online companies; he said the AP could provide exclusive access to some of its content for a set period of time to some of its online partners as a way to more money. He also said he wanted metrics about how the AP’s content was being accessed.

And other AP officials had also said they wanted major news search engines, including presumably Google News, to feature “the original source or the most authoritative source” — frequently the AP– at the top of their results. Curley had said the AP would only work with “those who use our principles” saying that “if you can’t do that, or if you won’t do that, let’s not waste time.”

It does not appear, however, as though Google ended up agreeing to many of the AP’s “principles” in its new agreement. The AP won’t say exactly what it got as part of the deal; Chief Revenue Officer Jane Seagrave told us in an interview that the AP was “pleased that we were able to work out some differences and come to a deal that I think helps the AP provide a better experience to consumers.” As for what the better “experience” would entail, she would only say that “there are some areas in which we’ve agreed to work together.”

Other news sites, however, cite sources who say that the deal the AP reached with Google isn’t very different from what the two organizations had before. The WSJ says, for instance, that the AP backed off its demand to have more control over how its content is featured in Google News results, while Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan says, “the new deal isn’t substantially different from the original deal Google struck with the AP in 2006.”

Sullivan says that might be because Google (as well as the AP) realized that Google did not really need to host the AP’s content on its site. After all, he says, when Google stopped hosting new AP articles earlier this year for a month, users did not notice for two weeks. Moreover, hosting content is auxiliary to Google News’ primary role as a news search engine.

So, it’s likely that the AP’s position in the negotiations was not as strong as it might have wanted — something that is also true of any other seemingly powerful news organization that sits down with Google at the negotiating table. Google might help a news organization develop a “better experience,” like it is doing with Fast Flip, but it doesn’t need to make any major concessions and it’s not in the media-bailout business.