By Isabela Fraga
Brazil’s main newspapers abandoned Google News after the world’s top search engine refused to compensate them for the rights to their headlines. The mass rush started last year when the National Association of Newspapers in Brazil, or ANJ, began recommending its members to opt out of the service.
ANJ’s recommendation was followed by all of the 154 newspapers that belong to the organization and account for more than 90 percent of the country’s newspaper circulation. Google argues the company doesn't need to pay for the rights to use headlines because Google News benefits newspapers by redirecting large volumes of user traffic to their websites.
The controversy fueled one of the most intense debates during the Inter American Press Association’s 68th General Assembly, which took place from Oct. 12 to 16 in São Paulo.
On one side of the debate were defenders of news companies’ authoring rights like German attorney Felix Stang, who said, “platforms like Google’s compete directly with newspapers and magazines because they work like home pages and use content from them.”
On the other, Google representatives said their platform provides a way to make journalistic content available to more people. According to Marcel Leonardi, the company’s public policies director, Google News channels a billion clicks to news sites around the world.
Leonardi criticized ANJ’s stance and, making a comparison, said it would be absurd for a restaurant to tax a cab driver for taking tourists to eat there.
Despite the arguments on both sides, IAPA’s general assembly came to an end without any new agreements between ANJ and Google. For Brazilian news companies, the number of visits that arrive from Google News has not been enough to justify the use of their headlines without receiving payment.
“Google News benefits commercially from that quality content and is unwilling to discuss a remuneration model for the production of these materials,” said ANJ president Carlos Fernando Lindenberg Neto in an e-mail interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
“We concluded (…) that staying in Google News was not helping us grow our digital audiences. On the contrary, by providing the first few lines of our stories to Internet users, the service reduces the changes that they will look at the entire story in our web sites,” Lindenberg said.
Google declined to comment for this story.
The debate has its ambiguities since search engines bring new online readers to news outlets' websites. However, the loss of online traffic caused by the newspapers’ departure from Google News hasn’t made ANJ change its position since, Lindenerg said, “Google News’ presence in the Brazilian market is small. We believe (the loss of traffic) is an acceptable price to protect our content and brands.”
Despite the decision, newspapers’ websites will continue to come up in Google’s regular search service. Lindenberg admitted their stance will affect general search results since Google’s ranking takes into account whether a site appears in Google News or not. Google is the number one search engine in Brazil with a 92.15 percent market share, according to a 2011 survey from Serasa Experian, which focuses in digital marketing.
In response, Google’s Leonardi fired back during the IAPA debate by saying that “if the reader is satisfied with the small blurb (we offer), that means the story did not call his attention that much.”
For Google, the goal is to reach a solution where both parties win – newspapers and news aggregators – instead of condemning sites like Google for not paying news outlets.
ANJ members, however, currently favor the other side of the argument. ANJ’s Lindenberg said the “ideal model would be to have both parties sit at a table and recognize the importance of each other in the value chain.”
The debate between ANJ and Google has been a long one. On Dec. 2010, both agreed that Google News would display just one line from each article, which would attract readers’ attention and lead them to the original link. But the measure was not enough to increase the number of clicks at news websites, Lindenberg said. “With newspapers’ departure from Google News, most internet users that looked for news content in Google News began looking directly in newspapers’ websites,” he said.
The issue has its precedents, too. In 2010, the Associated Press also abandoned Google for the same reasons but returned seven weeks later. Nevertheless, this is the first time a newspaper association mobilizes and recommends its members to leave the news search service en masse.
One thing to take in mind is that, even though all of ANJ’s newspapers have left Google News, many of their Internet portals are still listed by the aggregator, such as the Internet portals of organizations like Globo or UOL. In other words, it’s not possible to search for content published by their print versions, but the material that was published by their respective sites can be found.
For example, if a user searches the term “Dilma” in Google News and he specifies he only want results from newspaper O Globo, a message will come up saying “The search - Dilma source:’O Globo’ – did not match any news results.” But if he searches the same term with only the word “Globo” – which would include all the other media properties of the company – he would find results that lead to the company’s Globo.com portal.
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.