Newspapers line up to bite the hand that feeds them (traffic)

To say that the newspaper business is going through a rough patch is something of an understatement.

One need only glance at the stream of newspaper closures on the mediaisdying Twitter feed to see the extent of the carnage in the industry. The economic downturn has acted as a catalyst to what many media observers considered an inevitable decline.

Now that decline appears to have soured the relationship between some papers and a company with whom they previously clamoured to co-operate, namely search engine giant Google.

“There is no doubt that certain web sites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet," said Wall Street Journal Robert Thomson in the Australian earlier this week.

"It's certainly true that readers have been socialised – wrongly, I believe – that much content should be free,” Thomson reportedly said. “And there is no doubt that's in the interest of aggregators like Google, who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognize the value they are trading on that's created by others."

Meanwhile Observer columnist Henry Porter, as well as invoking the ‘parasite’ accusation, described Google as “just as an amoral menace”.

The web giant is a worldwide monopoly, Porter argues, that has an unfairly large influence over the media. “Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe,” he writes.

That accusation was followed by the story of how Google-owned video site YouTube took down music videos of many musicians after the Performing Rights Society demanded greater royalties.

As that demonstrates, Google is now so entwined in every part of the media that it is damned if it does (in this instance, allowing music videos to be hosting, much to initial ire of the music industry) and damned if it doesn’t (taking those music videos down when PRS demands more money).

While Porter’s comments are in no way a reflection of his employer’s views, they are particularly contentious given the extent of the relationship between Guardian Media Group – which publishes the Observer – and Google.

GMG employees now use Google’s on-demand application suite, Google Apps, and its recently launched Guardian Data service uses the spreadsheet component to make various data sets publically available.

That growing influence suggests Google's detractors will have plenty more to worry about in future. If they still exist.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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