Cue the world’s smallest violin, those crybabies at the Seattle Times are at it again, whining about Google making all the money off of their, um, meat:
When criticized for appropriating the work of others for its shelf, Google notes that Google News has only headlines and the first few lines of a story. To read the whole story, the reader has to click through to the newspaper, and then the traffic is the newspaper’s.
It sounds all so very fair. Google provides the bun and the newspaper provides the meat. But the result is that most of the money goes for the bun and not the meat. The bun people prosper and the meat people don’t.
First off, what a stupid metaphor, no doubt prompting many of us over the age of thirty to cry out “Where’s the beef?”
But poor choice of metaphor aside, it’s time for the Times to come clean about what it is arguing for: a wholesale rewriting of our copyright laws, and what does and does not constitute “fair use.” Think about it… if Google can’t reprint a headline, a link and a brief excerpt without permission, then neither can I, and if that sort of basic linkage can be broken without the express written approval of corporate lawyers then we’ll have cut the threads that tie together what we now call the world wide web. It’s both a selfish and self-destructive proposal that shows a totally lack of understanding of what makes the Internet useful.
It also completely misses the obvious reality that Google drives to the Times hundreds of thousands of readers a month who have no interest whatsoever in Seattle news and opinion, and who would otherwise never even know the paper existed, let alone read one of its articles. You’d think a company that makes its money selling ads at exorbitant prices would understand how this business works. The Times doesn’t sell content; like Google, it sells eyeballs, and that’s what advertisers are paying for. In that sense, it’s Google that is delivering the beef, not the Times. Indeed rather than demand that Google pay them for the privilege of driving them traffic, the Times should be damn thankful that they’re not being charged for inclusion in Google News.
There was a time when, if you were a local merchant looking to reach local customers, you had little choice but to pay the Times the asking price for that privilege, and the Blethen family grew fat off their near monopoly. But the Times delivered as promised, and if the merchant couldn’t figure out how to monetize these eyeballs and profit from their ads, well, that was their problem, not the Times’.
And that is the situation in which the Times finds itself today, with the glaring exception that they pay nothing for the valuable service that Google provides. How valuable? Note that the Times admits that it could ask to have its pages excluded from Google News, but it doesn’t want to be “cut off.” And with good reason, for without the traffic that Google drives their way, the Times’ claimed 1.7 million readers a month would surely dwindle to a mere few hundred thousand, and that would diminish the Times’ ability to deliver a valuable service to their real customers… their advertisers.