Germany’s biggest news publisher has just acceded to the fact that it needs Google more than Google needs it. Reuters reports that Axel Springer recently ended a two-week-long test where Springer blocked Google from using snippets of articles from its websites noting that the test had caused traffic to its sites to plunge.
For the past two weeks Springer has blocked Google from using snippets from 4 of its most popular news sites: welt.de, computerbild.de, sportbild.de. and autobild.de. There are no publicly available details on the traffic lost during the test, but Springer did note that “traffic flowing from clicks on Google search results had fallen by 40 percent and traffic delivered via Google News had plummeted by 80 percent in the past two weeks”.
Axel Springer was the last holdout of a cartel of German publishers which had been trying for years to force Google to pay for the traffic it sends them, a fight which the publishers have lost every round.
After years of yelling and threats, the publishers got a law passed in 2013 which required search engines like Google to pay for the use of snippets in search results. Google responded by requiring publishers to grant free use of the snippets under the promise of being removed from Google News (as we can see from today’s news, that is not an idle threat).
Earlier this year the publishers counter-attacked. 200 German publishers signed up with VG Media and started legal proceedings against Google, alleging that Google was violating that 2013 law. They asked to be awarded 11% of Google’s revenues based on their abilities to heft a very wide shovel.
In addition to demanding that Google pay for the use of the snippets, VG Media filed an antitrust complaint against Google. That came to naught in August after the Bundeskartellamt declined to investigate Google’s dominance of the search engine market, noting that the publishers had not offered sufficient basis to justify an investigation. (The fact that the Bundeskartellamt also had to investigate VG Media as a possibly illegal cartel may have influenced its decision.)
VG Media’s efforts came to an end a couple weeks ago when it announced that its members would be granting Google the use of snippets for free, and now Axel Springer is joining them. Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said on Wednesday that his company would have “shot ourselves out of the market” had it continued to block Google.
While it is good to read that the publishers have conceded the fight, this story is not over with yet. Spain has recently passed a law which grants publishers the inalienable right to license their content (as in it’s illegal for them to give the snippets away for free), and the EU’s new digital commissioner has stated his intentions to push for an EU-wide Google tax.