Big Tech Vs Media: Will India See Tech Behemoths Paying Publishers For Content Anytime Soon?

by Business Briefs - Jan 24, 2023 05:31 PM +05:30 IST
Big Tech Vs Media: Will India See Tech Behemoths Paying Publishers For Content Anytime Soon?
GAFA, the digital gatekeepers.
Snapshot
  • Several countries across the globe, especially in Europe, have tried unsuccessfully to make content aggregators pay for using content generated by media companies.

    India’s fast-growing market provides significant leverage that can be used to reduce Big Tech’s growing power.

Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, recently spoke on the tussle between media houses and content aggregators like Google over payments for content. 

Since the advent of digital media, media houses have fought against aggregators that collect news clippings from across various publications without paying these publications a fee for using their content.

Google, for instance, aggregates news from multiple outlets, displaying snippets and preview images from the article on the search results page and its news platform without making payments for using publishers’ content on its platform. 

Chandrasekhar said that Big Tech wields “disproportionate control”, and the negative impact of Big Tech on media companies could ultimately impact journalism.

Why is It So Difficult to Get Big Tech to Pay?

India is not the first country that has tried to correct the “imbalance” between content aggregators and publications.

The main issue behind the tussle is that platforms like Google and Facebook use content from these sites while displaying advertisements alongside. Hence, publishers believe Big Tech platforms should pay them for using their content. However, aggregators argue that they add value for publishers by driving traffic to their sites. 

Facebook maintains that news as a percentage of feed content is at four per cent to make a case about Facebook not being dependent on news content. 

In the past, several countries across the globe, especially in Europe, have tried to make content aggregators pay for using content generated by media companies.

European countries have worked on creating “link taxes” under which aggregators make payments to the news publishers to whom they link. However, the taxes didn’t have the desired effect. Google, for instance, de-indexed articles written by Belgian news outlets after Belgium tried imposing a link tax. Later, a settlement was reached, and Google categorically said it wouldn’t pay Belgian publishers or authors for using their content.

Similarly, when Germany tried to establish a link tax, Google made the requisite changes and stopped publishing snippets from the articles or images. After the experiment, web traffic for even the largest sites fell significantly. Axel Springer, the largest site saw a 40% decline in web traffic and an 80% decline in traffic from Google News. Again, Google reached an agreement and managed to get away without paying a dime to publishers. 

When Spain imposed link taxes, Google shut down Google News in the country entirely, leading to decreased traffic for new publishers. Larger publishers saw a web traffic decline of six per cent, while smaller ones saw a decline of fourteen per cent. 

Google and other aggregators have cited these examples as a sign that they add value to publishers and not the other way around. 

Some media outlets have a more nuanced view of the issue. They believe that only the aggregators who use long and detailed snippets fail to drive traffic to platforms, while those who use small snippets help drive traffic to media.

Governments Are Taking Stern Stances

Yet, despite their arguments, aggregators have made payments to publishers in two countries – France and Australia. 

Google had tried the same tactic of removing images and snippets and only showing news headlines, presumably to repeat the same traffic declines for publishers. However, it was ordered to show snippets, preview images and headlines, and pay money to publishers. 

Australia introduced the News Media Bargaining Code in February 2021, which required aggregators to negotiate deals with publishers.

Big Tech’s Growing Power over the Market

Aggregators have often used the steep declines in publishers’ web traffic to show the value they bring to the table by driving traffic to news websites. However, Big Tech’s statistics show their growing power.

The big tech platforms have often been accused of biases in curating content and blocking out content that doesn’t fit their worldview. If anything, the statistics only show how powerful these platforms have become, acting as a medium between publishers and audiences.

The platforms can easily shape public opinion, given their control over what users see and don’t see. Further, some publishers might get preferential on these platforms while others get pushed aside. Publishers are forced to become servile to the algorithm and Big Tech’s worldview in order to survive, which is not in the best interests of trustworthy journalism. 

India’s government has already been working on weakening these gatekeepers’ hold on the internet. Further, at a time of global slowdown, these companies are unlikely to try the gimmicks that they have resorted to in smaller countries. 

India’s fast-growing market with significant opportunities is too precious for that. The government has significant leverage in dealing with these companies due to the immense size and value of the Indian market, which it can use to reduce Big Tech’s growing power.

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