Try life without Google, France

Friend Eric Scherer recounts the drama when GoogleNews’ Josh Cohen met with a hostile crowd of French news publishers. I’ll get to the details of it in a moment. But to set the stage, let’s start here:

Imagine if Google and GoogleNews simply stopped linking to news publishers and avoided them entirely, since they complain so much. Where would they be then?

They would lose the direct traffic they get from GoogleNews and the ability to sell ads on those pages to those readers. They would lose the chance to meet and greet and develop a relationship with those new readers. They would lose traffic they get from searches. They would lose the opportunity to run Google’s ads and receive revenue from them. They would lose the branding that comes online from having Googlejuice. They would suffer and shrink away and Google would be blamed for killing the news.

But the French are blaming Google anyway, even though Google is now giving them all those benefits. It makes no sense, of course.

This anti-Google attitude comes from an apparent sense of entitlement that we see clearly in France but also elsewhere: Google owes us. We are losing money from advertising and Google is making money from advertising, ergo Google should play fair and give us some. But where is it written that publishers have a right to advertisers’ money? Publishers are losing advertising money because others saw the opportunities in the internet to serve them better and it’s advertisers’ right to put their money where they see the best return. All’s fair in markets.

Google could just take the money and sneer at publishers. But instead, it offers them a piece of its pie by both sending them traffic and offering them the chance to share in its ads. Publishers may wish to negotiate rates and shares with Google from a position of greater strength – that’s business – but Google doesn’t need to do business with papers at all.

In Scherer’s war report, the French publishers said that Google is their enemy and that Google’s market pricing is predatory (that is, undercutting what they think is their rightful rate). These quotes that Scherer recounts tell it all: “You are taking most of the online advertising growth, you are taking all of the advantages.” “Present deals are so far from what we need.” “The main issue is revenue sharing. Today, it is not fair.” “And now with the crisis, people are dying. We do not have enough money to live online.” “The growth of the Internet has been hijacked by search. We are no longer able to pay professional journalists to do their work.” “But you have a social responsibility for news organizations. You must take it seriously.”

They – like other publishers and journalists – think a market should be built around what they need and that there is a fair share that belongs to them even though they did not innovate and change so those who did should rescue them. But as Scott Karp has said, no one guarantees them a business model.

But Google comes to help. At the meeting, according to a slide Scherer shares, Google’s Cohen offered to have publishers help enhance their display in GoogleNews and even to edit preferred presences there, to give publishers content to enhance their sites, to help increase their revenue with a share of Google’s ads, and to increase their distribution. At a later meeting with wires, Scherer reports, Cohen gave them instruction in how to succeed with Google: “how to monetize archives, distribute local news, video and images, integrate content from YouTube partners, the use of Google quotes, Google site maps, meta-tags…” But most of Cohen’s audience in the trip didn’t want to learn how to work in new market realities – to ask and answer What Would Google Do? – but instead, they believed they were entitled to a piece of Google’s success without doing the work Google does.

Beware entitlement. Publishers who can’t make it now in the open market are trying to rely on entitlement. There are only two ways to grant such entitlement: taxes and public subsidy or legislation to hamper competitors. After the Google meetings, Scherer tells us, a French online executive raised the spectre of breaking up Google – the reflex of regulators – and a trade union representative “has recently come out in favor of banning Google from France.”

Be careful what you wish for.

: By the way, one country that has not bought What Would Google Do? is France. French publishers didn’t want a book favorable to Google. They wanted polemics against Google. By the way, American publishers told me that they have a French rule: If a book succeeds in France, it won’t anywhere else. So they told me to be just as happy that the French haven’t bought it. What is it about the French?