Google made $4.7bn from news sites in 2018, almost matching revenue of entire industry

News Media Alliance says between 16% and 40% of Google search results are news content

Since January 2017, traffic from Google Search to news publisher sites has risen by over 25% to about 1.6bn visits a week in January 2018. Photograph:  Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Since January 2017, traffic from Google Search to news publisher sites has risen by over 25% to about 1.6bn visits a week in January 2018. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

 

Google made $4.7 billion (€4.15 billion) in advertising from news content last year, almost as much as the revenue of the entire online news industry.

According to a report by the News Media Alliance, between 16 per cent and 40 per cent of Google search results are news content.

The industry body warned that the figures may in fact be conservative, since the report does not seek to include the value of users’ personal data each time they use the search service to click on a story.

The report serves to underscore the news media’s increasingly uncomfortable reliance on big tech for distribution, and exacerbate its long-held gripe that companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are disproportionately profiting from the arrangement.

“News publishers need to continue to invest in quality journalism, and they can’t do that if the platforms take what they want without paying for it,” said David Chavern, the alliance’s president, in an accompanying statement. “Information wants to be free, but reporters need to get paid.”

Distorting dominance

Big techs’ distorting dominance of the news media, effectively controlling both the pricing and distribution of news production over all but a handful of publications behind a paywall, has long vexed the news industry.

In 2009, Google News had approximately 24 million monthly unique visitors in the US, compared with 50 million for both CNN and the New York Times. By May 2018, Google had approximately 150 million unique monthly visitors in the US, close to double the numbers for CNN and the Times.

Chavern will present the news media’s case for a more equitable distribution of revenue before a Congressional anti-trust subcommittee tomorrow, which is looking at the relationship between big tech companies and the media.

The alliance hopes the outcome will be the passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a Bill that would give news publishers a four-year antitrust exemption, allowing them to collectively bargain with the owners of online platforms over revenue splitting.

The alliance argues that the new study first and foremost establishes the public’s demand for news.

User behaviour

“News content certainly drives a lot of user behaviour,” Chavern said. “If anything, the value to Google we’ve put on it is conservative, and I’m sure if you were at Google looking out, the number would strike you as conservative.”

Chavern argues that both Google and Facebook could be good partners to the news business – if they chose to be.

According to the report, since January 2017, traffic from Google Search to news publisher sites has risen by more than 25 per cent to approximately 1.6 billion visits per week in January 2018.

Chavern describes Google and Facebook as “wonderful distribution systems” that are failing to honour their side of the content creation – content distribution deal. Indeed, the report argues, with consumers’ shift toward Google for news consumption, news is becoming increasingly important to Google to keep consumers within its digital domain.

However, that growing dependence does not translate to greater revenue for publishers. Chavern said: “They just need to work with us to build a sustainable digital future for news and they haven’t been willing to do that yet.”

Digital platforms

The Alliance points out that the digital platforms are accustomed to paying for content – music, for instance – and argues that news should be no different. But when the digital platforms have been approached, Chavern said: “They say a lot of nice things but steadfastly refuse to pay for or improve the economic deal for news.”

It’s possible that may change. Building political and regulatory pressure on big tech, including calls for Facebook to be broken up and widespread alarm over the role of proliferation of fake news and its role in distorting the democratic process, has forced big tech on to the defensive.

In recent weeks, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has mounted what amounts to a media apology tour for not doing enough to combat election meddling, hate speech and the spread of misinformation – and to argue that Facebook should not be broken up by regulators. – Guardian News Service