credit card
The Barter Network Member Card, image via The Barter Network.

For much of its history, Google has benefited from the understanding that the company is not a publisher, as it has no content of its own. This reputation and Google’s own assertions along these lines have allowed the organization to draw on certain laws protecting intermediaries on the Web from lawsuits claiming liability for what is posted or seen on its sites, while also preventing it from being sued for copyright infringement in many cases.

Because it indexes the content of others, Google has long claimed it is merely an intermediary, connecting users with results and playing no role otherwise. But recent trends in search cataloging and results presentation show Google taking a more controlling position, and seeking some protection by claiming First Amendment rights as a publisher.

More recently, Google and those watching its behavior have been asserting that it is a publisher, as claiming a publisher role affords the company certain legal protections in the realm of free speech — the ability to use editorial judgment to modify search results. Meanwhile, a new round of legal sanctions may indicate that the days of Google having it both ways may be over.

Is Google a publisher? We’ve discussed this question before — what is a publisher? It isn’t the people who write on WordPress or Facebook or Twitter — the publisher is the organization and employees taking the financial risk (and realizing the financial rewards) of making available a content distribution and curation outlet. Those using these publisher tools are authors. Authorship has become a button on WordPress and Facebook and Twitter, but publishing remains a resource- and cash-intensive exercise.

When it comes to authorship, Google supports it with badges and author tagging. But when publishers have requested similar treatment, Google has stonewalled including publisher logos or identifications in a similar manner. This suggests a somewhat competitive stance. The fact that Google has leveraged its indexing of scholarly content into Google Scholar, which competes with many other commercial offerings, underscores the commercial nature of Google’s indexing.

Recently, such forays into content curation and distribution have led some to assert that it is indeed a publisher. In Spain recently, a law was passed requiring Google to pay news publishers when it scraped and aggregated content in its own interface. This led Google to back out of the Spanish market with Google News, indicating yet again that Google was indeed a publisher, purveying content in a proprietary interface and generating revenue doing so. The problem was that it was unlicensed content, which led Spanish lawmakers to clamp down. Google responded by leaving the market.

At the heart of the issue is money, or the lack thereof, for publishers. In the early days of Google, bartering traffic for indexing seemed a wise tactic. However, as traffic has proven more difficult to commercialize and as Google has pushed various boundaries into publishing, this barter is becoming less tenable.

Questions about the value of this traffic barter have long stalked the Google bargain. Recent events suggest we’re on the brink of a sea change as more publishers are asking why large, general search engines have gotten a pass when it comes to content licensing, making billions by indexing our content without paying publishers for the rights to do so.

The recent revelation that 11-23% of the traffic we’re getting is from robots or other non-human sources suggests that the bargain’s value is not clear to either party. In addition, the ability to monetize traffic in light of other requirements Google places on free content practices is increasingly untenable, as modifications to support Google’s preferences can be expensive in direct costs while also decreasing the value of the underlying content or distorting a publisher’s business model in unhelpful ways.

We are trading for traffic that generates uncertain returns and is expensive to monetize. A more direct path and reliable method to a financial upside would be to charge search engines licensing fees if they want to crawl our content.

This gets more complicated when you understand more about user behaviors. For instance, if you ask customers what they consider to be their favorite “publication,” many today will answer in a confused state, saying that they mainly use Google, PubMed, Twitter, or some other technology interface to find content. Publication brands are secondary, as they have been superseded by search and social tools. Search engines have become a vital overlay on content sources, and for legitimate reasons. But they also cannot exist without those content sources. With news outlets driven to the brink of financial ruin by online business models that aren’t sustainable, legal intervention has become necessary.

The search engines and content providers can forge a more tenable arrangement, of course. For instance, Elsevier’s Clinical Key search engine pays publishers for the content it digests to make it work. This is wise and fair. After all, it’s in every business’ best interest to make sure that its supply chain functions well. Every link of the value chain needs to be viable. A value chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and Google may be inviting problems when it makes major sources of content more likely to disappear.

We often blithely speak of major entertainment and corporate forces as being exploitative and dominant, but most of these pay their vendors and providers fairly. Walt Disney was famous for poaching stories for his movies, but no real complaint ever arose because he paid each source well for the rights to use their stories. It was fair, and both parties were satisfied.

If Google is indeed seeking to gain some benefits from portraying itself as a publisher, then we are within our rights to wonder why we are giving another publisher free rights to our content. This is not an idle question. It seems technologists believe they can claim they are not publishers and then appropriate all the distribution, curation, and legal stances of a publisher.

Robert Levine wrote an entire book on this problem — “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back.” The questions this book poses are only growing more urgent as technology companies continue to intrude on content businesses, and we continue to allow it. Yet, another path seems entirely possible, and the recent Spanish court decision suggests that it’s time to look for an alternative to the sketchy barter solution we’ve lived with for the past 15 years.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

View All Posts by Kent Anderson

Discussion

51 Thoughts on "Is Google Now a Publisher Offering Other Publishers an Inadequate Deal?"

“Recent events suggest we’re on the brink of a sea change as more publishers are asking why large, general search engines have gotten a pass when it comes to content licensing, making billions by indexing our content without paying publishers for the rights to do so.”

This is pretty simple. Any publisher that does NOT want its content indexed by Google or any other unlicenced indexer need simply state this, in machine-readable form, using a robots.txt file at the top level of the page. This technology has been in place, and respected by all reputable indexers, since about 1995.

There is simply nothing to be angry about here — it’s a complete non-issue. Publishers that wish to enjoy the benefits of indexing can do so; those that prefer for reasons of their own to reject it can also do so.

I’m not sure who you think is taking a ball here. My point is that publishers such as Kent who do not wish their content to be indexed can very easily make it so. There’s no justification for heavyweight claims such as “legal intervention has become necessary” when there is a perfectly simple technical solution that’s been in place for nearly two decades.

(For 99% of publishers, of course, the situation where their content does get indexed is the situation where both parties win. For the 1% who don’t like this, I can’t help wondering whether they are motivated more by fear other people benefiting than from any real expectation that they can get a bigger win for themselves. But. whatever. It’s their content: they can allow or disallow web indexing as they see fit.)

You’re ceding a hollow victory to Google before negotiations even begin. A publisher leaving the internet in a snit does no one any good, neither the publisher nor Google. Again, why not try to find a mutually beneficial position that both sides can accept? Hachette had the opportunity to pull all its books from Amazon, and instead chose to go through negotiations to achieve a less one-sided position. Given the intense amount of investigation going on around Google, its de facto monopoly status, calls that it be declared a utility, this seems an opportune time to try and reach a compromise, rather than blindly accepting what the Lords of Silicon Valley are willing to bequeath.

This isn’t an issue for any single publisher as much as it is for the industry as a whole. As in Spain with newspapers, it is the entire industry that is affected.

Also, robots.txt is a weak barrier to indexing, and invoking it delivers no revenue. A better and more equitable solution would be for Google to use its amazing computing powers to start computing royalties to publishers providing them with the content that makes their business possible. Ultimately, they are making money without paying their providers except in bartered traffic, and that trade is becoming less viable over time.

You’re ceding a hollow victory to Google before negotiations even begin.

I’m sorry, David, I don’t at all understand what “victory” you are talking about here. Google, like all good-faith indexers, has an unwritten contract with all publishers to respect the robots.txt file. Publishers may therefore choose whether or not to be indexed. What more do you want from Google and other indexers than that they voluntarily offer a free discovery service and allow anyone to opt out? How is this in any way “ceding a victory” to Google?

A publisher leaving the internet in a snit does no one any good, neither the publisher nor Google. Again, why not try to find a mutually beneficial position that both sides can accept?

By all means. But the indexers aren’t the ones complaining. They are happy to index or not to index, as the publisher wishes. If “mutually beneficial position” is code for “indexers should pay publishers” then I am not optimistic that indexers will find that worthwhile; but publishers who want to make an attempt to get paid are quite welcome to. The procedure would be (1) Disable existing implicit indexing agreements using robots.txt (2) Negotiate with indexers who the publishers thinks will be prepared to pay for an exception.

This seems an opportune time to try and reach a compromise, rather than blindly accepting what the Lords of Silicon Valley are willing to bequeath.

Again, this is precisely back to front. By honouring the robots.txt convention, the Serfs of Silicon Valley have agreed to blinding accept whatever individual Lords of Publishing are willing to bequeath.

Again you pose this as a case of extremes: Google gets free rein to do what is most profitable for Google, publishers can accept that or be erased from the web. The suggestion here is that there may be some middle ground that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties, rather than leaving things one-sided. Google is an advertising company entirely reliant upon the content of others. If those others go out of business, that means less content for Google to advertise against, and less revenue. If an increasing amount of useful content is no longer available via Google, then Google is less valuable to users and shareholders. There is some level upon which Google needs content creators as much as the creators need Google. To use the Hachette/Amazon analogy again, Hachette did have the option of pulling all their content from Amazon, which would have been bad for Hachette and bad for Amazon. Instead the two found a way to compromise to their mutual benefit.

The dangerous legal water in which Google is treading makes this perhaps increasingly compelling for Google. They might be better served to be seen as acting as a good member of the business community than in creating enemies who will certainly describe them to the authorities as an abusive monopoly.

Again you pose this as a case of extremes: Google gets free rein to do what is most profitable for Google, publishers can accept that or be erased from the web.

No, no, absolutely no!

The robots.txt standard is much more granular than that. Publishers have total control over what parts of their content are exposed to which indexers. They can (if they wish) expose some journals to Google, others to DuckDuckGo, and metadata to all indexers. Or any other combination they want.

Google is not welding the power in this relationship. All it’s doing is offering a free service, of which publishers are free to accept as much or as little as they wish.

How you, or any publisher, can look at that and spin it into “Google bullies publishers” is absolutely baffling to me.

When publishers are forced by Google to change their sites, move content around, incur expenses, redo their architectures, and so forth in order to remain indexed, and yet are paid nothing for providing content, have their value propositions damaged by what Google makes free, and are seeing problems with the underlying barter arrangement, then there is clearly a business problem. Why you are unwilling to support a business solution to a business problem is the baffling thing to me.

When publishers are forced by Google to change their sites, move content around, incur expenses, redo their architectures, and so forth in order to remain indexed […] then there is clearly a business problem.

Yes. If Google forced publishers to do this, then there would indeed be a problem. Luckily, it doesn’t. So there isn’t.

If your choice is to do what Google demands or to go out of business, then that’s not really a choice.

What this is “what Google demands” workload that you’re talking about?

Google has, in the past, demanded rescanning of thousands of pages for each publisher because Google didn’t like the user experience, as if publishers were an extension of Google. Google has required various paywall modifications, as well. These are expensive, not what publishers themselves want to do, and increasingly about improving the Google product experience. If you don’t comply, you risk being delisted. That’s coercive, not cooperative.

Google has, in the past, demanded rescanning of thousands of pages for each publisher because Google didn’t like the user experience.

I would be interested to know more about this. Do you have an informative link?

Then you will forgive me if I find your unsupported assertion less then wholly persuasive.

I will forgive you, but that’s a weird way to learn new things — requiring that they be old things first.

“If your choice is to do what Google demands or to go out of business”—You’re making it sound like showing up well in Google’s search results is really good for a business. Doesn’t that imply that search engines like Google are a *good* thing for publishers’ business? You’re even implying here that Google is saving publishers that would otherwise go out of business en masse. But Kent’s article paints a different picture.

Publishers today have the option of not participating in what Google has to offer: they are free to operate as they did before Google News, etc, came along. Is Google *itself* doing something that makes that no-Google option worse than it was 15 years ago when it was the only option?

Can you spell this out for me?

Having electricity is really good for a business. One always has the choice of going off the grid, but that may not be cost effective for your supermarket.

To spell things out, the market has changed in the last 15 years. Web search has come to dominate many types of businesses, and one company dominates web search. This has created different market conditions than existed in 2000.

Having electricity is really good for a business. One always has the choice of going off the grid, but that may not be cost effective for your supermarket.

True. But no-one suggests that the electricity companies should be paying the businesses for the privilege of giving them electricity. Because that would be stupid.

But somehow Goole should be paying businesses for the privilege of giving them publicity?

Utilities are regulated very differently from other companies (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Utility_Regulatory_Policies_Act as an example). Were they not subject to such regulation, I suspect they might have to pay for their own infrastructure, rather than relying on taxpayers. I also suspect that Google would not be happy to be forced under similar regulation.

But somehow Goole should be paying businesses for the privilege of giving them publicity?

Maintaining the electricity parallel, what infrastructure is Google reliant upon as far as earning revenue? Should Google help support the content that they use to sell ads against? It may be in their long term interest to do so. No content means no ad revenue. That’s the suggestion being made here, that current free-riders may need a different long term strategy for sustainability.

Just curious, Mike — do you agree with those who argue that Elsevier forces libraries to buy their journals in enormous packages rather than as individual titles?

To me, the right solution would be just not to buy Elsevier subscriptions. So whether they come in the form of a Big Deal or individual titles would hardly register. But I’m struggling to see the relevance of your question to the subject at hand. Sorry if I’m being dense, but could you please explain?

Sure, sorry — there are those who argue that by putting journals in big bundles (such as the so-called “Freedom Collection”) and then setting prices for the bundles that reflect a very low per-journal price, Elsevier is effectively forcing libraries to adopt the bundles rather than subscribe to individual journals. This was actually one of the major planks of the Elsevier boycott that I discussed a couple of years ago here in the Kitchen, and several commenters made just that argument. I was wondering whether you agree with that position, because it’s somewhat similar to the argument Kent and David are making about Google — not that Google can literally “force” anyone to do anything on the Web (any more than Elsevier forces people not to subscribe to individual titles), but that it does so effectively by virtue of its functional monopoly on Web search.

Thanks for clarifying. I guess the answer is that I don’t see the parallel with Elsevier because Google is not charging anyone for the valuable service of indexing them (nor of course forcing that service on anyone who doesn’t want it). What seems to keep getting lost in this discussion is that Google doesn’t force anyone to do anything — it simply does the bes indexing job with whatever is provided, and desists is requested to. I’ve tried repeatedly, but I still can’t see any element of coercion in what Google is doing here.

(To be clear, I am not saying everything Google does is always fine and sunny and lollipops and rainbows. There are parts of its operation that are more troubling. But this part — free, non-obligatory indexing — I can’t find fault with.)

and why you want to apply a business “solution” to a busted business model is baffling to me. Time to change the current business model…….

Isn’t changing one’s business model exactly a “business solution”? Isn’t Kent suggesting exactly this?

Google is indeed wielding the power here, given their de facto monopoly status on web searches. No matter how granular, you are offering the choice of either submitting to whatever Google wants or essentially disappearing from the web. Google’s position is different from a “free service” that is one of many equals, hence all the legal maneuvering by various governments to determine their official monopoly status, and the question of whether at some point “search” should be considered a utility.

If there does seem to be a business solution that in the long term would be beneficial to both parties (Google gets a reliable stream of quality content to advertise against, publishers get to stay in business) then why are you so adamantly against it?

Opting out of Google’s system isn’t really much of an option, especially given how Spanish publishers have struggled since it was booted out of Spain.

Google has always had “the ability to use editorial judgment to modify search results.” We humble users would wish it so: the price of decent search results is eternal vigilance against SEO, content farms, spammers, etc etc, not to mention paywall publishers who want to show up in search, but then don’t want to abide by the convention of the web that the content then be freely downloadable;(So-called “cloaking”).

I don’t know if you remember the days of AskJeeves, OpenDirectory, and AltaVista, Kent, often bizarrely irrelevant results, with spammy paid links indistinguishably mixed in–I seem to remember Coors bought the word ‘beer’ on one search engine–and all that after a wait over dialup.

The appearance of Google beta search in 1999 quite literally transformed the utility of the web. And if another search engine comes along that serves our needs better, we are but one click away from changing our allegiance, and Google knows it. I for one would love to use a search engine that strongly deprecated in its search rankins any publisher not in conformance with an ideal web: presenting open access, freely and fully downloadable, archivable content, alongside a responsive and honest commenting system. Life is short, I have no shortage of materials to read, and I’d rather favour those that play nicely with my attention. I certainly don’t want my search results spammed with paywalled stuff I can’t afford and won’t be buying. Keep it for your hundreds of subscribers!

So I agree with Mike: if you find your old business model isn’t working on the web, remove your content: the rest of us will just have to get by on the few crumbs that are left.

What if Google uses their editorial judgment to only show search results for medical papers that portray their paying advertisers in a good light? Would that be acceptable? We know that Google already favors its own products over those of competitors, regardless of whether the competitors offer better answers to search queries. How far are you willing to let them go as far as controlling your access to information?

“What if Google uses their editorial judgment to only show search results for medical papers that portray their paying advertisers in a good light?” – Is there any hint that Google does that sort of thing? I’d look for a different search engine if you think they’re doing that. “Google already favors its own products over those of competitors” – really? I just did a search for some kinds of products that Google makes (“cloud computing”, etc.) – I’m not seeing Google’s products at the top; can you elaborate on this?

The medical suggestion was a hypothetical. But in case you missed it, Google recently settled with the FTC in America over charges that it favored its own products over those of competitors:
http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2013/01/google-agrees-change-its-business-practices-resolve-ftc
And Google settled with the EU over similar allegations:
http://www.wecomply.com/mobile/blog/post/2095421-Google-Settlement-Ends-Years-of-EU-Antitrust-Inquiries

Personally, I’ve stopped using Google simply because its product is trained to give me results that resemble the things I’ve clicked on in the past (the “filter bubble” http://www.searchenginejournal.com/the-google-filter-bubble-and-its-problems/29879/ ) As someone who frequently does research online, I want the best possible answer, not answers that reaffirm things I’ve previously read.

It’s a drag, but one way to combat the filter bubble (and personalized results in general) for *any* search engine is to open an incognito window (I think it’s called “private window” in Firefox) for the particular search you are doing. Or you might be able to poke around in your account settings if you want to turn it off completely.

Or use a search engine like DuckDuckGo (http://www.duckduckgo.com) which doesn’t track users and offers the best possible results for each query, rather than trying to anticipate what you want to hear.

Or use a search engine like DuckDuckGo … which doesn’t track users and offers the best possible results for each query

Emphasis added.

DDG isn’t, in the sense specifically under consideration, a “search engine.” It aggregates other search engines with some crawler ability of its own. Even the “filter bubble” angle is nonsensical; anyone who “frequently does research online” ought to have been able to sort out that DDG as vendor for this functionality is wholly unnecessary.

I honestly can’t find a way to interpret this as anything other than petulant fist-shaking. If Google won’t pony up some bread to index the content, somebody else will index it, and then Google will index that. Paywalled content delivers titles and abstracts. Omitting links to, say Pubmed (e.g., ScienceDirect), is a pure nuisance play.

In some ways, isn’t Google already doing this by ranking OA content higher in their search results than subscription-based content? Personally I’d like to see the most relevant results, regardless of access model etc., and decide for myself if I want to pay for it or not.

You make a fair point, Adam; and if you’ve status in a well-endowed institution I quite understand your preference. Alas, secrecy about the sauce powering any search engine seems the rule: presumably because to do anything else is to play into the hands of those who would game its search results. A search engine that offered configurable user preferences? Sounds like an idea. Maybe if Common Crawl starts bearing fruit we’ll see reduced barriers to entry in search, more choice, and less moaning all round.
Don’t mistake me for a Google shill BTW. No-one is keener than me to see genuine diversity in this vital web functionality, but the sheer utility of Google search is hard to beat.

John Brooks’ 1967 classic profile of the Xerox Corporation for the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1967/04/01/xerox-xerox-xerox-xerox), later anthologized in Business Adventures (a compendium of Brooks’ writing that made Bill Gate’s list of his favorite books and which was fortunately just reissued in 2014 by Open Road after years of languishing), eerily echoes many of the same issues discussed above.

When in a very similar position as Google is now in many ways, Xerox realized it needed to embrace content if it were to ultimately thrive. If it damaged content creators there would be far less available of value to copy (at this point in the late 60s Xerox was very smart — it didn’t get stupid until the early 80s when it essentially gave away its technology to Steve Jobs and Apple).

To this end, Xerox ended any discussion as to whether it was a publisher by becoming one of the largest education publishers in the world with the acquisition of American Education Publications and University Microfilms. It then lobbied actively AGAINST fair use exemptions for scholarly materials related to its copying technologies. It also sent warnings out with every machine about copying materials under copyright.

Not that this always worked. Brooks writes:

“Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., Director of Princeton University Press, wrote in the Saturday Review of a scholar friend of his who has cancelled all his subscriptions to scholarly journals; instead, he now scans their tables of contents at his public library and makes copies of the articles that interest him. Bailey comments, “If all scholars followed [this] practice, there would be no scholarly journals.”

Or at least far fewer individual subscriptions and increased prices for libraries as it turns out.

What’s really striking about the New Yorker from 1967 is how many ads it had. Wow!

The only real question here is whether what Google does is legal or not. If it is legal, then publishers can either work with Google, work without Google, or develop their own alternatives.The practical tack is to work with Google even as you seek alternatives. I wish more energy went into doing new things than fighting over old things. Of course, if what Google does is illegal, then it’s a matter for the courts. Some people will adopt the strategy to change the law in their favor. To which I say: Be careful what you wish for. Innovation is the only defense.

The middle ground you seek, Kent, existed when Google first started doing its indexing. Remember the Publisher Program whereby Google did indeed license content from publishers? Our press at Penn State was the first university press to sign up. Only later, when Google secretly started its program of mass digitization with the University of Michigan Library and several others, did it move into uncharted territory, using its legal strategy to justify this practice as “fair use,” relying on precedents set mainly in the Ninth Circuit that gave an expansive interpretation to “transformative use.” For a while, it seemed that the Ninth Circuit was an outlier, but then the Fourth Circuit followed its lead and eventually even the Second Circuit did, in the HathiTrust and Authors Guild cases. The latter case is still on appeal, so the story about fair use here isn’t over yet, though Google appears to be winning most of the battles here. Blame the courts, then, for giving Google the ability to do what it does without licensing content.

Google making money on the back of content is an interesting argument. However, it’s important to look by content industry. For general news, definitely. In the case of scholarly publishing, however, Google makes virtually no money on this content. G-Scholar accepts no ads, and if you look at the keywords that drive traffic to your sites (article titles; author names; etc…), there are virtually no ads on Google.com for those terms. Lastly, the total number of scholars is in the 20m range, a tiny fraction of Google’s audience. I don’t imagine there is tremendous ‘indirect’ revenue of serving those users for scholarly search to monetize them later in their ‘normal’ searches. If a scholarly publisher were to confront Google (a la Hachette/AMZN) and say we need to strike a better deal, I imagine Google would tell them they are getting a great deal already since Google is driving traffic to them with no money in return. I’m not sympathetic to Google carte blanche b/c I do think they push their weight around, but I’m not in agreement with the argument that they ‘owe’ scholarly publishers for making money on their backs b/c they aren’t.

It would be interesting to see Bing come in, offer to pay scholarly publishers a small amount for exclusive indexing rights for a five-year period, and watch what would happen to the search marketplace. I’m surprised they haven’t done it yet. Without scholarly content, any general search engine becomes far less useful. It may be a small amount from a small group and for a small group, but if another search engine had it exclusively, the market might shift quickly and definitively.

While revenues may be indirect, they are substantial. For instance, Yahoo! just outbid Google for the rights to be the default search in Firefox. The price paid just for that little search box in one browser? Speculation is that it is more than $100 million per year. So these are not small sums being earned off content providers via search integrations. Google itself earns billions this way. The issue is that the content providers are not thriving in the same way. This should be a concern for the companies relying on good content to make their search businesses work.

Firefox is not a content provider, it is a browser that has 500m users who do billions of searches per year that can be monetized by ads – so $100M is a good deal for both parties: Firefox has a huge audience of users, and Google wants to reach them b/c in this case they are the ones being dis-intermediated, which is why Google launched Chrome. For content providers, the situation is reversed: Google has a huge audience, and content owners want to be discovered by them.

It doesn’t matter what is “fair” – it’s a matter of the power differential. Google has semi-monopoly power here and they will not voluntarily pay publishers for content unless they are legally required to or forced by economic reasons. They are a for-profit company and it would be insane of them to start paying publishers for content they can get for free. You can rant all you want and Google will just ignore you. If you want to get anywhere with this, you need to increase your negotiating power – like by getting all or most publishers together and having them refuse content to Google. If that causes a significant dent in Google’s profits, they may be willing to negotiate. Otherwise, forget it.

The history of publishing provides many examples of an emergent group (e.g., USA printers of UK titles, publishers in languages other than the original publication) providing cheap access in a new market to content created by authors and developed by publishers without compensation to the originators. Dickens was told that he was being done a favour by being exposed by such printers to the US market. (He did earn money from his appearances.) With the passage of time, mechanisms such as US Copyright Law (thanks to Mark Twain), the Berne Convention, and translation rights are developed that recognize the contribution made by all involved. In my view the actions of Google and the need for restructuring repeat that pattern as does open access. With respect to both of these modern versions of uncompensated exploitation, as Kent says, we need to develop equitable recognition for all those involved in the value chain.

Comments are closed.