A Google product that pays publishers to feature their content is almost a year behind its intended launch schedule in the U.S., as negotiations with some media outlets have bogged down, people familiar with the situation said.
Google News Showcase allows publishers to curate panels of related stories that appear on Google News and some other Google platforms. Links bring readers to news organizations’ websites and, in some cases, allow users free access to normally paywalled content.
Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG -0.96%▼ Google announced Showcase in 2020 as part of a $1 billion global investment in partnerships with news publishers. It first launched in Germany and Brazil and has since expanded to 18 countries including Australia and New Zealand. The program at one point had been internally slated for a possible launch in the U.S. in 2021, according to people familiar with the matter.
A number of factors have caused delays in the negotiations with U.S. media outlets. Some publishers feel Google isn’t paying enough and are objecting to certain contractual terms, including a provision that would limit their right to get more money from the tech company in other ways, several publishing executives said. Some publishers want to wait and see the fate of legislation in Congress that would give publishers a stronger negotiating hand with tech platforms.
The delays with Showcase cast further doubt on whether major U.S. publishers can rely on revenue from licensing content to Big Tech companies. Publishers have struggled to compete with Google and Facebook for ad dollars, and long criticized those companies for not paying for news content. The tech companies each responded with programs meant to compensate publishers. But Facebook recently said it is no longer investing in its news efforts, ending sizable payments to some publishers, and Google’s Showcase has yet to launch in the U.S.
Google’s program is meant to create “new and deeper partnerships around the world and, importantly, will power great experiences for people online,” Google spokeswoman Jenn Crider said in a statement. The company has signed up 1,700 news publications and continues to look at additional markets, she said.
Though Google hasn’t activated the Showcase feature in the U.S., it has made some progress lately in media dealings. Bloomberg Media in recent months agreed to a multiyear licensing deal in the U.S. with Google that will generate $1 million to $3 million a year, while Reuters agreed to a global deal last year that would bring in a similar amount of U.S. revenue, people familiar with the agreements said. The Texas Tribune also has signed a Showcase deal, people familiar with the deal said.
Google in February 2021 announced a multiyear deal with News Corp, parent of The Wall Street Journal, that included Showcase and other elements. The media company said the deal and other tech tie-ups would generate a combined annual revenue of more than $100 million. News Corp owns news organizations in Australia and the U.K., as well as Barron’s, MarketWatch and the New York Post in the U.S.
In at least some cases, Google agrees to pay publishers 25% of their promised Showcase fees before the feature has launched in their market, according to documents reviewed by the Journal.
USA Today owner Gannett is among news organizations that have been unable to reach a deal with Google on its News Showcase.
PHOTO: USA TODAY NETWORK/REUTERS
Other news organizations entertained deals with Google but couldn’t come to terms. Gannett Co. GCI 0.91%▲ which owns USA Today and hundreds of local newspapers, in early negotiations with Google rebuffed an offer of more than $6 million a year as part of a multiyear deal, according to people close to the discussions. Instead, the company asked for payments of around $300 million annually, a valuation based on the findings of a 2021 study commissioned by industry trade body News Media Alliance, the people said. The companies didn’t come to an agreement.
During early negotiations with Google, the Washington Post had discussed a possible deal for over $5 million a year, according to people familiar with the matter, but the outlet was seeking a bigger payment. The Post received over $15 million a year from Facebook’s news program, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.
As Google works to forge ties with some publishers in the U.S., it is bringing on a prominent executive from the Post. The outlet’s chief information officer, Shailesh Prakash, is leaving the company to join Google in November as general manager of News, Post Chief Executive Fred Ryan told staff on Wednesday.
For some U.S. outlets, one sticking point is a contractual term from Google that says a Showcase deal constitutes all payment that a publisher is entitled to for its content, according to people familiar with the matter.
International publishers also face restrictions. In one international Showcase contract reviewed by the Journal, Google reserved the right to end the Showcase agreement if the publisher “participates in or initiates a legal claim or complaint relating to Google’s…use of news content.”
Google got broad access to the publisher’s content, including full text of stories, high-resolution images, extended summaries, text-to-speech and article clipping functionality, according to the international contract.
Some news publishers were hesitant to commit to a Showcase deal ahead of pending U.S. legislation that would allow publishers to collectively negotiate with Google for compensation without violating antitrust laws, according to publishing executives. The legislation, dubbed the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, was scheduled for Senate Judiciary Committee consideration on Thursday, but the panel adjourned without taking a final vote amid disagreements over details of its provisions.
“It doesn’t make sense to accept a licensing offer that isn’t informed by a fair, objective assessment of the true value of our content to the platforms,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of Gannett Media. “The JCPA framework creates our best opportunity for a fair process.”
In Europe, a 2019 copyright directive gave publishers the right to negotiate payment from tech platforms for the use of their headlines and article summaries. The gap between what publications can get on their own from Showcase deals and what they are expecting from collective negotiation can be vast, according to publishing executives.
U.S. and international contracts reviewed by the Journal said either Google or a publisher could cancel a Showcase deal if there was a “change in law, statute or regulation” that requires Google to acquire any of the publisher content covered in the agreement in a new way. That could include if “a change in law requires Google to license content from a collective.”
Google has reached some deals with publishers but hasn’t activated Google News Showcase in the U.S.
PHOTO: DAVID PAUL MORRIS/BLOOMBERG NEWS
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Appeared in the September 8, 2022, print edition as 'Google Paid-News Effort Hits Snag'.