Monday, September 18, 2006

Divorce

Google and Belgium have fallen out. Who's next?

Online publishers have fretted for a while what to do about Google. The site loved by many takes everybody's news and puts it in one place. In doing so, it makes it all about Google and less about the content owners and the problem is getting worse.

Google is already heading off into new content areas. Adding books, multimedia and, of course, it already owns blogs although its been slow to integrate Blogger content with the rest of its news content.

That's what I would have done, as well as creating a nice big blog homepage. Why doesn't it have that as well?

I digress. The ruling by the Belgian court means Google has to stop reproducing articles from French-speaking newspapers in the news section.

Clearly having looked at the problem, the Belgians decided the answer to Google was simple: divorce.

They might be onto something, although total divorce is possibly going a step too far. One of the key parts of the case was that Google News was considered an "information portal" rather than a plain search engine.

We all know that Google is much more than that. One of the great things about Google is that news, the news of media owners that is, hangs around on its site for days. You don't have to visit various media owners (Brand Republic included) because it's all there in one place until the moment you decide to click through and read something.

The complaint, which was made by copyright organisation Copiepresse, all comes down to the central issue of money. Publishers have all this content, Google takes it for free and in the process makes billions as part of its overall business.

Google might well have to consider paying in some form if this move in Belgium, small but the cause of global strife over the years, spreads. Google faces similar legal challenges from Agence-France Presse, which is also seeking monetary damages, and it could face problems in Germany and the Netherlands.

Yahoo! has paid some publishers since the early days of the web, and why not? Content is still king.

Google says it plans to fight the move.

"We are disappointed by the decision, which we believe is flawed and which we intend to appeal. We believe this case was entirely unnecessary. There is no need for legal action and all the associated costs."

The latest NRS figures out today again had total newspaper and magazine readership down, as more and more readers and ad revenue goes online. With the digital market being so important , particularly to publishers, they have to find new ways to earn revenue.

If Google siphons off their digital revenues that just makes their job harder. They need to find ways of reversing the situation and that comes back to the same old problem of making sites more sticky. Users themselves offer part of a solution because they create content (threads, blogs, user-written news), which can be incorporated alongside more traditional content.

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