For more than decade, Google News has made it easier for web searchers to find news articles online and the service has benefited content producers by bringing large amounts of referral traffic to their sites. Citizens and content producers in Spain will soon have to do without those benefits. In response to Spanish legislation that would required Google to pay content producers for publishing snippets, Google will shut down it Google News service in Spain on December 16th.
The shutdown of Google News in Spain may be the final move in a back and forth between Google and the rest of Europe on the matter of payments to the content producers for showing snippets on Google News. First, Germany made a law requiring Google to pay German sites for showing article snippets. Google got around this by removing all German sites from Google News until the site signed a waiver renouncing their right to be paid. Spain tried to get around that by saying a Google News site in Spain must show articles from Spanish sites, and the sites can’t renounce their right for payments. The Spanish government succeeded in forcing Google’s hand, just not in the way they wanted.
“This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not,” explained Richard Gringas, Head of Google News. “As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.”
The news in doubly bad for Spanish content producers. Not only will they not get paid for snippets, all content from Spanish websites will be removed from Google News around the world.
This move by Google (which was predicted in a previous article on this site) was just announced on Dec. 11th, so there is a chance a last minute solution can be worked out. Even if Spanish legislators don’t want to be seen as caving into Google, it’s unlikely that a long-term shutdown of Google News will play out in their favor. The loss of Google News is devastating to content producers, who are going to see web traffic and revenues plummet. The public that uses Google News will probably be angry that they can’t use valuable service that was free and mutually beneficial for all involved. And it’s highly unlikely that any company will try to fill the void left by Google News in Spain if it requires them subsidize the entire Spanish news industry.
These realities mean that the Google News shut down in Spain will probably be temporary. But for newspapers, bloggers, and other journalists who depended on Google News traffic to survive, they can only hope their businesses can weather the storm as the drama plays out.
This may seem like an extreme move by Google, but there’s a lot at stake. Other European countries are watching how the Spanish law worked out before they attempted to pass similar laws in their own countries or for the European Union as a whole. By shutting down Google News in Spain, Google has sent a warning shot across the bow of Europe. Google loses little, if anything, by shutting down it’s news services, but content producers in countries without Google News would suffer greatly. And the public will suffer as smaller newspapers close down, the prices for print editions rise, more Spanish news sites resort to putting content behind pay walls, and more ads are shown to make up for the lack of traffic.
To make a long story short, Google News is an extremely beneficial and free service for online content publishers. Spanish legislators may have wanted to boost their local news industry by forcing Google to subsidize it, but by forcing the closure of Google News, they have left the Spanish news industry worse off than before.
For more about what Google is doing here in the U.S., read this article about their plan to identify mobile-friendly sites in search results.