FT and Guardian eagerly grab Google's 30 pieces of silver

€150m to spunk away on digital projects? That’ll do nicely

Alan Rusbridger as Judas
Judas: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger takes Google's cash

Money can’t buy you love, they say, but Google hopes it can mollify Europe’s newspaper publishers. Faced with antitrust action in Europe, the Chocolate Factory is pouring €150m directly into the pockets of European newspaper publishers to use on “digital projects”, the FT reports.

The cash will fund “joint work on product development, assistance with digital training for newsrooms and €150m in grants to back digital projects over the next three years.”

So expect to see lots of “Snow Falls”, "experiments in new forms of storytelling", "engagement strategies", infographics, and other gimmicks beloved of otherwise-unemployable digital “gurus” who can’t do news.

The FT and Guardian have already signed up – but Europe’s biggest groups, who object to Google on the grounds that its scraping of their material is parasitic and harmful for the content market – have not.

Axel Springer and News Corp are notable absentees from the “Digital News Initiative”, preferring to see a market for content develop. With those who profit from it paying their way.

Last year Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Döpfner wrote an open letter to Eric Schmidt in which he admitted: "We are afraid of Google.”

He didn’t just focus on Google. Döpfner said Mark Zuckerberg’s notorious remark, “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear,” reminded him of the STASI.

News organisations have long complained that loopholes in copyright law permit scrapers to profit at newspapers’ expense. Google has never directly placed advertising alongside the news scrapings but in an unguarded moment in 2008, Marissa Mayer (currently “remixing and pivoting” Yahoo!) admitted it made $100m a year indirectly from Google News.

Döpfner’s point – that publishers can’t live with Google, but can’t live without it – was emphasised last year. The German publishers are suing Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! over their use of scrapings. Google stopped automatically indexing them and made inclusion opt-in. Such is Google’s dominance, and so inept have the publishers been at developing complementary revenue streams to wean themselves off scrapings traffic, that every single one of them eventually capitulated. ®


See also, from 2007, Ofcom's “welfare for wankers” wheeze.

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