Technology

Google to pay for 'high quality' news in three countries

A stack of folded newspapers sits on a keyboard in front of a monitor showing a blurred news website Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption News publishers have for years clashed with Google over whether they should be paid for online clips

Google says it will pay some news outlets for "high-quality" stories that it uses amid pressure from publishers.

Part of the initiative will require Google to pay for its users to access news stories otherwise locked behind a so-called paywall on certain websites.

The first sites to join are in Australia, Brazil, and Germany, with a product launch set for later this year.

It comes as authorities in some countries investigate how tech firms use news content without paying for it.

Australia has put forward plans to force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers under competition rules.

France has already issued Google with an order to do so.

It is the latest development in a long-standing row with news publishers over whether tech giants should pay them to include "snippets" of news articles in search results or on social media.

Google characterises its new pitch to solve the problem as a "licensing programme", focused on in-depth reporting rather than day-to-day news stories.

In an announcement blog post, Google said it would "pay publishers for high-quality content".

Google will make some articles from subscription news websites available to its users for free.

"Where available, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read pay-walled articles on a publisher's site," Google said.

"This will let pay-walled publishers grow their audiences and open an opportunity for people to read content they might not ordinarily see."

It is safe to say that the relationship between Google and the news industry has been delicate.

Publishers from Rupert Murdoch to Germany's Axel Springer group have long accused the search giant of benefiting from journalism without being prepared to pay for it.

Today's announcement is the latest in a series of moves by Google to change that narrative.

Putting money directly into new content sounds great, particularly if it supports struggling local newspapers that are writing important local journalism.

But how the plan to pay for free access to pay-walled articles will work is not yet clear.

If readers discover that Google will pay for them to get around the paywall, they may be less eager to pay for a long-term newspaper subscription.

For years, there has been talk of setting up micropayment systems so that people can buy individual newspaper articles, but those ideas have mostly come to nothing.

Perhaps Google now sees itself as supplying a payment infrastructure to give the news industry a more secure future - but that again raises questions about just how powerful a role the tech firm will have in deciding what news we all get to read.

The initial batch of publications includes Germany's Spiegel group, Australia's regional titles InQueensland and InDaily, and Brazil's Diarios Associados.

Google says it is still in discussions with "many more partners" it hopes will sign up to the programme in the near future.

Despite the intervention of governments and criticism from some publishers, the company insisted its existing products generated "economic value for publishers".

It argued that its search and news products send readers to news sites more than 24 billion times each month, "giving publishers the opportunity to offer ads or subscriptions and increase the audience for their content".

There are obstacles getting people to pay for news directly.

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that that most people in all countries are not paying for online news, despite some success stories, such as in Norway (where 42% do) and the United States (20%).

But many people say there is nothing that could possibly persuade them to pay for online news - in the US, 40% of people hold that view, according to the report. In the UK, it is 50%.

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