The Google News Showcase will provide curated news content through arrangements with news platforms and publishers. Will this even out the relationship between US tech giant and publishing industry? Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Can Google do the right thing for the world’s news portals and publishers?

The US tech giant is rolling out the ‘News Showcase’ in the US and about 20 countries, to provide curated content from leading news providers. In the US, those who have signed up include ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and Bloomberg. It is not known whether the UAE or other Middle East markets will be covered as part of the global rollout by Google of the services.

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Whatever the status on that, Google is offering a chance for news portals to get on to the platform and hope to reach a wider readership base than what many of these publications can hope to do on their own.

But industry sources are divided over whether Google can do the needful, given that it was instrumental along with Facebook in pummeling the business models of traditional news media. Even when the action shifted to digital platforms, much of the news was consumed directly on Google or Facebook, and that too meant much reduced revenue streams for standalone news providers.

Their revenue sharing arrangements, if any, with news providers has been patchy to date, industry sources say.

So, can Google and its News Showcase get it right this time?

“It’s interesting that Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have signed up – but they already have extremely successful subscription services and will see Google News Showcase as another revenue stream,” said the CEO of a publishing house based in Dubai Media City.

“What would be most interesting is what sort of revenue sharing arrangement Google has.”

For news portals, that would be the only detail that matters. Plus, of course, which news portal makes the cut on the News Showcase.

“Will it be ‘by invitation’ only? Or will all the leading news platforms in a country be automatically eligible?” queries the publisher.

Julio Rodriguez is Digital Transformation Officer at Radix Media MENA based in Dubai. He reckons that Google will go out of its way to be seen as wholly impartial in which news platforms get to be on the News Showcase.

“Google maintains a commitment to impartiality and transparency across all its products,” said Rodriguez. “Consequently, it does not favor one publisher over another for biased reasons, as this would tarnish its reputation. If such biases were evident, it would raise concerns about the integrity of Google Search as well.”

And that’s an absolute no-way area for Google, with its Search engine bringing in a substantial chunk of the parent company Alphabet’s revenues. (Even with users cutting out cookie tracking and all that, Google ad revenues have taken a blow but far from being decisive ones.)

Google has algorithms for automated qualification and policies that every news provider seeking inclusion must adhere to. As a result, Google exercises control over which publishers ultimately appear on it.

- Julio Rodriguez of Radix Media

“It is important to note that Google maintains an unbiased approach, allowing any eligible publisher to be a part.”

What’s in it for news providers?

That’s all good as far as Google goes. For news providers, what would matter is the reach Google can give – and whatever revenue sharing arrangement Google has to offer.

“Once a reader visits and finds the content interesting, chances of him/her opting for subscription to a publication goes up,” said Sunil Roy, Account Director at Publilink, an ad agency. “This is all the more important for those publishers who already have paywalls.

A large volume of traffic via Google, in turn, will also play a role in attracting advertisers, a need of the hour in these testing times. There is a revenue sharing model, but there are various factors that determine the share for the content creator and provider.

- Sunil Roy of Publilink

A business model around subscription

In the recent past, even as the value of news – of the genuine sort – becomes ever more paramount, news providers have been busy tweaking their business model. Subscription to online news has become a de facto setting for many publishers as they try to battle steep drops from their print operations.

“Subscription is still the name of the game, those publications that haven’t already done so might have to rethink their news-for-free approach,” said a media manager at one of the bigger advertising groups in the region.

“Even Netflix – which built its entire premise around an ad-free viewing experience – has had to rethink. And bring in ad supported packages for basic services.”

Apple and its ‘News’

Apple already its News services, where it on-boards some of the biggest publishers and news content creators.

The platform, which combines more than 300 at $9.99 a month, is reckoned to have 19 million plus subscribers by some analysts. Apple does not give a user breakdown.

Apple has been operating a fairly successful curated news service for some time.

According to Radix Media’s Rodriguez, “Apple News for publishers is an excellent way to syndicate content within the Apple ecosystem. But it has stringent requirements and content quality standards.

“The content must adhere to the Apple News Format (ANF) and be editorial in nature.

“That being said, it offers a revenue-sharing model for publishers, which can create an additional revenue stream for them.

“Overall, it is a strong model in markets where Apple News is available. However, the service is currently unavailable in the UAE.”

Will Google News Showcase take a different tack?

Google’s arrival with News Showcase will thus be a timely addition to consuming news – of the ‘real’ sort – online.

With close to 62 per cent – or 4.9 billion - of the world population using the internet, tech-based news portals can gain significant influence.

- Dr. Kiran Sasidharan Nair, Associate Professor at Abu Dhabi University.

“Targeted information and updates can help these news portals to gain more loyal readers - and subscribers.

“There can be situations where any update or change in Google's algorithms can have both positive and negative effects on news portals. Algorithm changes can sometimes favor certain types of content or alter the visibility of specific sources. As a result, news portals may need to adapt their strategies and content to align with Google's evolving algorithms to maintain - or improve - their visibility.”

More than anything, news portals seeking a Google on-boarding need to get their revenue share percentage deal done right. That would make for a good start to the Google News Showcase…