The news industry has endured a challenging economic run in recent years as it’s struggled with changes in the way media is consumed.
One of the reasons: Big tech companies like Google that disseminate content produced by traditional media outlets without fairly compensating them for it. According to a New York Times article last week, Google earned $4.7 billion from the work of news publishers in 2018.
The company’s created a heck of a business model, swelling its own coffers by delivering content produced, at great effort and expense, by others. It’s hard to imagine a brick and mortar business-model equivalent that would be considered above board.
The numbers quoted in the Times are from a study by News Media Alliance (NMA), a group that represents more than 2,000 media organizations. Believe it or not, $4.7 billion is considered a conservative estimate — it doesn’t take into account the value of personal data Google collects from people clicking their way through all those news stories.
As NMA President and Chief Executive David Chavern told the Times, “They make money off this arrangement … and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers.”
Congress is mulling legislation that would grant news companies an antitrust exemption for a specified period of time. That would allow them to join forces in negotiating better deals for their content.
It’s rare to find agreement in Congress, but every so often it happens. The proposal enjoys bipartisan support as Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value of news publishers and understand the devastating impact big tech’s practices have had on traditional media.
There also seems to be a dawning realization that only something as drastic as implementation of the nation’s antitrust laws can have any real impact on companies as large and dominant as the tech giants. There’s perhaps some foreshadowing there.
The long-term survival of what most of us consider news is part and parcel of a larger conversation about how and to what degree lawmakers should address the power and influence of these technology companies. Some have suggested breaking them up.
On one hand it feels almost surreal that regulations conceived in the 1800s to break up steel, rail and oil monopolies are what Congress has at its disposal — like contemplating a cavalry charge on a modern battlefield.
On the other hand … if we’re indeed seeing history repeat itself, perhaps the old ways are best.
We needed (and need) rail, oil, steel — all the industries that grew into trusts that were busted by the government rose to that level, due in large part to the country’s demand for them. But they grew large enough, dominant enough that their power over swaths of the economy was harmful.
In 2019, we’re way past anyone suggesting we don’t need the many innovations that have come about by way of big tech’s efforts. But have we, in exchange for that, allowed them to achieve a dominance — and operate with an impunity — that’s dangerous?
In terms of the news industry, specifically, providing news publishers better footing — from which to negotiate compensation for their product — makes sense. Exploring the antitrust exemption that’s been proposed is a good start.
By and large, those publishers are media outlets struggling to adjust and survive as their revenue is drained away.
While few stop to think about all that goes into producing news, most people do consume news publishers’ content in one form or another, which gives almost everyone an interest in preventing traditional media from slowly being bled dry.
That includes Google and other tech giants. And they’re smart people — they can figure out a way to make a killing without killing news.
John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.