The News vs Facebook & Google
As a short disclaimer, I don’t normally chime in with an opinion on topics that cause division in people or society, so this is something new for me. With Facebook banning news articles and the potential of Google following suit or even exiting Australia, I feel compelled to share my thoughts.
As a technologist who spends a lot of my time online, this worries me a lot. The legacy industry of the news outlets is somehow using the Australian government to legislate against international social media and search giants to get them to hand over more cash. To me, the News Media Bargaining Code breaks the very idea of the internet.
The losers in this battle are the public, of course, but also the hard-working journalists who spend their time researching and presenting quality stories about newsworthy events.
The news agencies blame technology for taking their revenue and the tech companies say the news is stuck in the past. We’ve seen this happen before with the music industry.
When record companies and high profile industry leaders went up against the tech companies like Napster, mp3.com and even MySpace, they brought down a burgeoning industry that had the potential to change the way the music industry functioned. They failed to see the significance of how this technology would change the music industry and rather than embracing this change and helping to shape that change, they fought it with corporate lawyers and big-budget advertising campaigns.
So the tech industry did what they always do and worked around this, so now we have Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and all of the other streaming platforms that now dictate how record labels release their music.
Of course, there were losers in this battle as well. It may not be immediately obvious though as to why artists are missing out. The real problems are twofold.
There is now a much lower barrier to entry, meaning there’s more music available that’s bypassing the quality controls. This means that while we have a lot more music available, some really shouldn’t be there.
Because there is a lot more music and overall the revenue from music is lower, there’s less money to go around. An artist needs to have a considerable following and be pulling in a lot of streams to make even minimum wage.
However, this all comes with opportunities - royalties are one way of ensuring that artists can be compensated outside of just the streaming income. Merch, physical sales and touring (when the pandemic is over) are also now more closely aligned with the artist rather than the record labels. Sure, there are still bad deals out there, but I feel hopeful for the music industry.
So what can we learn from the music industry when it comes to the news industry?
Facebook provides around 5 billion clicks through to news sites per year. This means eyes on stories and ads which provide revenue for news sites. Google, on the other hand, algorithmically provides links to stories on news media sites, again providing eyes on ads and subscriptions. Are they stealing stories or viewers? In my opinion, they’re aggregating and funnelling viewers to the websites of news media corporations.
Both Google and Facebook invest heavily in journalism and resourcing news outlets. Obviously, they are also taking money from advertisers, which is also their revenue model.
Perhaps the news media industry could learn from the music industry and start some form of royalty scheme where published articles are licensed through an independent body and companies that use the work from journalists can receive a portion of the money collected. This could also allow independent journalists to create and distribute stories outside of the giant corporations.
I don’t want to see quality journalism put in jeopardy in Australia. I also don’t want to see the internet become more censored than it already is because of giant corporations battling for views.
My biggest takeaway from Facebooks decision to ban news in Australia is that even after all of the misinformation being spread on social media, people still get their news from Facebook. If you’re getting your news from Facebook then I have a bridge to sell you.
Michael Lobb works tirelessly to help clients solve business problems using technology and heads up a team of developers, designers and miscellaneous nerds at Teamscāl. In his spare time, he likes long walks in the park with his dogs, Chappie and Pocky.