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Google to pay for news

26 June 2020

When I read the headline I couldn't believe my eyes.

Is Google really going to pay for the privilege of linking to news stories through its Google News service?


What's going on?

Hypertext linking ought not be "taxable" -- it's one of the basic constructs on which the world wide web has been built over the past two and a half decades. For Google to capitulate to pressure from the likes of Murdoch would be a devastating precedent that could unravel the entire fabric on the web.

But all is not as the headlines would suggest.

Google will not be paying for the freedom to link at all.

Headlines like this BBC one seem to suggest that Google will be capitulating to increasing pressure to pay news sites for links to their content but that is far from the truth.

What's actually planned is for Google to pay a very few sites in just three countries for republication or access rights. Even then, the content they'll be republishing or providing access to will be very limited and supposedly only "high quality" stuff (where the hell will they find that in today's sensationalist, tabloid media?).

Whilst I'm sure the publications concerned will consider this a victory, I think they're possible shooting themselves in the foot.

Under the existing Google News model, Google simply takes the headline and a one-sentence synopsis of the story to include in its news index. Users who click on that headline are taken directly to the news site itself where the publisher can benefit by the arrival of eyeballs on ads. It's a win-win for all concerned.

The problem is that a growing number of news sites are now paywalling some or all of their content, in an attempt to boost revenues. Google still indexes those sites into its news pages but those who click on such links are often annoyed or disappointed that they're effectively locked out of that content.

Although it's not yet clear, I'm picking that Google will provide a paywall-sidestep method of accessing that content and pay the publishers on a per-view basis or perhaps by way of a regular stipend. The real question is whether this will be sustainable for either party.

There is only so much you can earn by way of ad revenues from a single news story. If Google is going to pay the publisher for the right to sidestep their paywall then it has to recover that cost somehow. Google's traditional model is ad-funded so I guess they'll rely on an interstitial ad page or perhaps framing the linked content with their own ads scattered around.

How this will work out financially is rather interesting and uncertain. We're being told (by news publishers) that the ad-funded model is unsustainable -- there just isn't enough money in ad revenue to cover the costs of creating content. If that's really the case, how will Google generate enough ad revenue to pay the publishers sufficient money to make this whole thing economically viable for them?

On that subject however, I notice that YouTube (aka Google) has become very aggressive in terms of its advertising intensity in recent weeks. Watching a YouTube video used to involve sitting through a short (15 second or less) unskippable pre-roll ad or perhaps a longer (but skippable) ad right at the start. Longer videos may also have contained a mid-roll ad which was almost always just a single ad video that was short or skippable.

Lately however, that's changed dramatically.

Now every video seems to have at least two pre-roll ads and they are often 15 second-long unskippable ones. The mid-rolls have also been doubled-up on. Whereas you used to get a single ad per pre-roll break and those were skippable, now YouTube seems to be loading up those breaks with two ads and they're often 15-second unskippable ones at that.

In short, they're really tightening up the screws to try and get as much revenue as they can from the platform -- and I hate it.

Although I'm a YouTube creator who has uploaded thousands of videos to the platform, I am a much greater consumer of YT content. For every video I upload I probably watch 100 or more of other people's videos. In hate the new advertising intensity with a passion and it is actually reducing the time I spend on the platform quite significantly. If I encounter two 15-second unskippable ads I simply click-away and do something else. My life is already too short to spend so much time waiting for woefully untargeted ads to finish playing.

I'm expecting that many other folks are thinking and behaving along the same lines. This may be a perfect example of YouTube shooting itself in the wallet as they start to drive consumers (ie: eyeballs for advertisers away. Although there may be a brief surge in earnings right now, I'd bet good money that within a month, revenues plunge precipitously as viewers find other things to do or other sources of video material.

A further indicator that Google is seeking to ramp up its revenues can be found in this story on ArsTechnica.

Will greed become their downfall?

Or will billions of mindless souls simply "adapt" to the changes with barely a wimper?

You tell me!

Google has made it clear that it wants YouTube to become just like broadcast TV but they don't realise that if they do this, they've lost the point of distinction that made the platform so successful in the first place. The contemporary generation do not want a YouTube that is all advertising and filled with repurposed content from CNN, Fox, ABC and a bunch of mindless MSM chat shows.

I fear that Google is sowing the seeds of its own demise.

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