Spain: no news is bad news

Last week Google announced that they will be shutting down Google News Spain on Tuesday, December 16 and remove Spanish publishers from Google News in other countries. Spanish publishers seem slightly confused, dismayed and just a bit miffed.

The reason Google is shutting down the Spanish version of their news page is that the Spanish Association of Daily Newspaper Publishers (AEDE) pressured the Spanish government to create a new law that would force Google to pay the publishers for any snippets they use from the sites in the creation of their Google News pages. The new law, scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2016, actually requires publishers to charge Google for use of those snippets (and they can’t just waive the fees) but how much they should charge has yet to be decided.

Google News pages typically reprint the title of an article, a thumbnail of the graphic used and the lead sentence, but other than a link back to the original article that’s about it. Spanish publishers wanted Google to pay them for those two sentences.

But Google doesn’t profit from their News pages so the search giant is calling the AEDE’s bluff. Basically they’ve said, ‘you want us to pay for reprinting snippets from your stories and providing links to your sites but our News pages are basically a free service we provide for our users that also happens to drive a significant amount of traffic to the original publisher’s sites. We don’t have to do those pages. We don’t profit by reprinting those snippets. So, rather than going through all this bullshit we’re just going to pull the plug on Spanish news coverage. And when your sites’ traffic falls off the digital cliff don’t come crying to us.’

The AEDE is reacting to Google’s announcement by asking the EU for help. In a statement they said, “Given Google’s dominant position, AEDE is requesting that Spanish and EU authorities, as well as anti-trust authorities, intervene to protect the rights of citizens and companies.” They are hoping someone can put pressure on Google to sit down with publishers, keep Google News going and discuss compensation for content use.

I’m not exactly sure that citizens and companies have the right to force Google to keep publishing News pages if they choose not to.

If that were true then Spanish publishers could force advertising agencies around the world to create billboards and TV commercials promoting their publications and on top of that pay the publishers for the privilege.

It seems obvious to me that this whole mess is nothing more than an effort to extort money from a U.S.-based multi-billion dollar company and now that it is blowing up in their faces they want the EU to bail them out.

Years ago when I was Editor-in-Chief of AmigaWorld magazine an advertiser complained about a review we published that pointed out some problems with their current product. The president of the company wanted us to print a retraction because he insisted that they were going to fix those problems in the next release. I pointed out that those fixes had not been implemented in the version he sent us for review and we couldn’t speculate on what may or may not be fixed in the next version. After a rather drawn out back and forth debate with the advertiser (and pressure from my publisher) we did print a synopsis of his complaints about the original review and his promise that the bugs would be fixed.

Later, when the new version was finally released one of my staff asked me if we should review the new version. I said no. ‘We have hundreds of products waiting to be reviewed – more than we can ever fit into our review section. Why should we risk pissing off that advertiser again?’ And I added, ‘There are good reviews and bad reviews but the worst possible review is no review of their product at all.’

By the way, we never mentioned that company or their products ever again.