Google hosts news-service content on own site

Internet search leader Google has begun hosting material produced by the Associated Press and three other news services on its own website instead of only sending readers to other destinations.

The change that started last Friday affects hundreds of stories and photographs distributed each day by the AP, Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Press Association in the United Kingdom and the Canadian Press. It could diminish internet traffic to other media sites where those stories and photos are also found—a development that could reduce the online advertising revenue of newspapers and broadcasters.

Google negotiated licensing deals with the AP and French news agency AFP during the past two years after the services raised concerns about whether the search engine had been infringing on their copyrights.

The company also reached licensing agreements with the Press Association and the Canadian Press during the same period.
Financial terms of those deals have not been disclosed.

The new approach does not change the look of Google News or affect the way the section treats material produced by other media.

Although Google already had bought the right to display content produced by all four news services, the search engine’s news section had continued to link to other websites to read the stories and look at the photographs.

That helped drive more online traffic to newspapers and broadcasters who pay annual fees to help finance the AP, a 161-year-old cooperative owned by news organisations.

Now, Google visitors interested in reading an AP story will remain on Google’s website unless they click on a link that enables them to read the same story elsewhere. Google does not have any immediate plans to run ads alongside the news hosted on its site.

Publishers

Although the change might not even be noticed by many Google users, the decision to corral the content from the AP and other news services may irritate publishers and broadcasters if the move results in less traffic for them and more for the internet’s most powerful company.

A diminished audience would likely translate into less online revenue, compounding the financial headaches of long-established media already scrambling to make up for the money that has been lost as more advertisers shift their spending to the internet.

Google has been the trend’s biggest beneficiary because it runs the internet’s largest advertising network. In the first half of this year, the nine-year-old company earned $1,9-billion on revenue of $7,5-billion.

Despite Google’s dominance in search, its news section lags behind several other rivals. In July, Google News attracted 9,6-million visitors compared with Yahoo! News’s industry-leading audience of 33,8-million, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Yahoo!, along with other major websites such as Microsoft’s MSN and Time Warner’s AOL, has been featuring AP material for years.

New approach

Under its new approach, Google reasons readers would not have to pore through search results listing the same story posted on different sites. That should in turn make it easier to discover other news stories at other websites that might previously have been buried, said Josh Cohen, the business product manager for Google News.

“This may result in certain publishers losing traffic for their news-wire stories, but it will allow more room for their original content,” Cohen said.

Vlae Kershner, news director for the San Francisco Chronicle‘s website, backed up that theory, saying Google News mostly refers readers interested in the newspaper’s staff-written stories. “This is going to have a very minimal impact on our traffic,” he said.

Referrals from Google News accounted for 2,2% of the traffic at newspaper websites during the week ending August 25, according to the research firm Hitwise.

Caroline Little, chief executive and publisher of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, said she worries about anything that might erode her site’s advertising revenue. “That’s how we make money,” she said. “We will be watching this carefully.”

For its part, the AP intends to work with Google to ensure readers find their way to breaking news stories on its members’ websites, said Jane Seagrave, the AP’s vice-president of new media markets.

In recognition of the challenges facing the media, the AP froze its basic rates for member newspapers and broadcasters in the United States this year. That concession has intensified the pressure on AP to plumb new revenue channels by selling its content to so-called “commercial” customers on the web. Those efforts helped the not-for-profit AP boost its revenue by 4% last year to $680-million.

“The AP relies on its commercial agreements to help pay the enormous costs of covering breaking news around the world, ranging from deadly hurricanes and tsunamis to conflicts like the war in Iraq,” Seagrave said.—Sapa-AP

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