Don’t look now but Google has started paying publishers for the right to link to their content. Google probably wouldn’t phrase it that way, but that’s effectively what it has begun to do in at least two European countries.
In December, Google settled a long-running dispute with newspaper publishers in Belgium over displaying excerpts and links to their content in search results by agreeing to to buy millions of euros worth of advertising in the newspapers and their web sites. While Google insists “we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services,” laundering the payments through the advertising department doesn’t really change what’s going on.
Now, Google has agreed to a similar back-door payment deal with French publishers. Google chairman Eric Schmidt and French president Francois Hollande announced Friday that Google will create a €60 million (US $82 million) Digital Publishing Innovation Fund “to help support transformative digital publishing initiatives for French readers.” In addition, Google “will deepen [its] partnership with French publishers to help increase their online revenues using our advertising technology.”
French publishers have been as vociferous as their Belgian colleagues in arguing that that Google should be paying for the privilege of indexing and displaying their content.
It’s easy to understand why Google would want to disguise what’s going on in Europe through one gimmick or another. It certainly doesn’t want to give other publishers any ideas, or alert shareholders to the potential quagmire it’s entering here. But it sure looks like a precedent is getting established in Europe, and it’s not a good one for Google.