Boycott on Google News leads to 5% loss in web traffic: Brazilian newspapers

By Isabela Fraga and Natalia Mazotte

According to the National Association of Newspapers in Brazil (or ANJ in Portuguese), members that followed the association’s recommendation to abandon Google News have seen a decrease in web traffic of only 5 percent.

“The (newspapers) themselves believed that the 5-percent loss was a price worth paying to defend our authors’ rights and our brands,” said Ricardo Pedreira, ANJ’s executive director in a phone interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

“The fact is, Google News is absolutely irrelevant in Brazil,” said Carlos Müller, ANJ’s communications advisor. “If you go into Google News now and search for (Brazil’s) President Dilma, you’re going to see that none of the websites of the main newspapers in the country are there.”

“It’s important to point out,” he added, “that the portals of some news companies are still (in Google News).”

Google Brazil executives did not agree with Müller’s assessment. “Many of the main Brazilian news outlets’ websites are indexed in Google News,” said Newton Neto, Google Brazil’s partnerships manager. In a brief statement in response to an inquiry from the Knight Center, Neto added: “Editors can decide whether they want to be indexed or not. We’re committed to delivering quality content to users in the simplest and fastest ways possible; that’s why we have partnerships with world-recognized publishing firms that choose to appear in Google News.”

“The split (between ANJ and Google) is contrary to all other changes that the digital technology and economy have made in the journalistic communication process,” said journalist Carlos Castilho in an article published in Observatório da Imprensa. A doctoral student at the Federal University of Santa Catarina and a Knight Center instructor, Castilho believed that “nobody wins” in the quarrel between the country’s newspapers and Google.

For attorney Bruno Magrani, a researcher at the Technology and Society Center of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s Law School, this is an entirely commercial matter. “It all comes down to commercial agreements,” he said. Magrani mentioned the Association of American Publishers’ civil lawsuit against Google regarding Google Books. At the end both parties reached an agreement: publishers could choose whether to participate in Google Books’ digitalization project.

For ANJ, any agreement with Google must involve some kind of compensation. “Google is a company that makes plenty of money through advertising and one of its assets is the content we produce, so we believe some kind of compensation would be fair,” ANJ’s Pedreira said.

But Magrani said another matter should be considered: alternative media or information outlets that can weaken initiatives like ANJ’s. “Perhaps, in the future, big media’s relative importance in obtaining information will be diminished by the rise of independent media outlets and other ways for people to inform themselves,” he said, and pointed out that the law on authors’ rights in Brazil allows the reproduction of journalistic content in other news outlets.

In Europe, the quarrels between news companies and Google have led to the consideration of stricter laws on authors’ rights. In France and Germany, bills are moving through legislation to ensure aggregators and search engines pay news companies when they cite their contents. In France, Google has already threatened to exclude French newspapers from their search results if the law is passed.

The value of news

Beyond the demands for compensation, ANJ’s move is also about the struggle to regain power in the journalism industry’a chain of value, said Eugenio Bucci, a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo (or ECA-USP in Portuguese). “With the rise of search engines and news aggregators on the internet, newspapers lost an important part of that chain of value. I think that this move to step out of a search service is an attempt to regain dominance here,” he said.

In the case of a newspaper’s print edition, the company owns the chain of value completely – all the way from the production of news to the delivery of the finished product to the reader. On the internet, part of that chain rests with the telecommunications industry, the computer industry and, most recently, with middlemen like Google as well.

“The question is how independent journalism is going to be rewarded,” Bucci said. “(The departure of the big newspapers from Google News) could be an unhappy move that will prove to be ill-guided in some time.” However, since there isn’t a model yet that guarantees compensation in the long run, independent newsrooms have to hold onto the value they offer.

For ANJ, independent journalism companies will have to charge for at least part of the content they produce since the revenue that comes from digital advertising is much smaller than in print. “When it comes to content in new media, the most complete business model is still being built,” Pedreira said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.