A Kinder, Softer Google?

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Anyone who has ever dealt with Google knows what a ruthless, relentless competitor they are. If you don’t like their way, you can go pound and…”We are Google, dammit!” So it was a little surprising to see a new, fluffy Google attempting to make love not war with the EU newspaper industry.

Remember newspapers? In the EU, there has been a growing clamor against all things Google led in part, at least, by the rich and powerful newspaper groups. Though they are considerably less rich and powerful owing to the thrashing their industry has taken in the last couple of decades, they still have a loud voice in Europe. Massive cross media conglomerates, like Axel Springer and NewsCorp, still carry a big stick and have been in a standoff with Google for a while.

Google has just announced a new “Digital Initiative” with a group of major EU publishers. They have pledged about $170 million over three years to help newspapers grow their digital products and revenues. Given the insane amounts of money Google has thrown at projects like Nest and Glass, the amount seems a little patronizing, if not insulting. But it’s better than nothing and it’s better than being at war with the major EU news publishers.

In a kerfuffle I documented in this very blog a few months back, the Spanish government passed a law that essentially required Google to pay to include snippets culled from Spanish news sites in their search results. In response, Google shut down their Spanish news site entirely (a very Google move, BTW). That led to the implosion of many news sites who lost most of their search referral traffic. Both parties backed away from the mess, and this uneasy, somewhat patronizing initiative seems to be the result.

What’s really happening here is that Google is trying to narrow the number of concurrent battles they’re waging in Europe. The EU competition commissioner is leading a pretty strong assault on Google for what looks to be a very tightly-defined accusation of anti-competitive behavior. Indeed, there are some in the EU lobbying for a “Google Tax” on all things Google.  That would be a problem, as would a $2Bn monopoly-based fine. Having the very vocal news industry editorializing about how evil Google is won’t help that cause. I’m sure Google is hoping that the digital bone they have thrown the EU news hounds will keep them quiet for a while.

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