This is a bit of a blinder from Phillip Blond's little don't think too hard tank. The proposal is that Google and Facebook should be paying into a fund which will support traditional journalism. There're two problems with this idea.
The first is the obvious: who gets to decide what journalism gets done with that fund? I think we know, don't we? The sort approved of by Phillip Blond and the like. And isn't that lovely, they propose that they get a chunk of other peoples' money to play with.
The other problem is that they've entirely misunderstood the economics of what is happening here:
He argues that the UK newspaper industry is undergoing an existential crisis. Revenues are declining. Titles are being closed. Editorial staffs are being cut back. The result is that public interest journalism is endangered.
By contrast, online media giants such as Google and Facebook, which take newsfeeds from newspapers, are making huge profits.
In the UK alone, he writes, Google generated more than £7bn of revenues in 2015 while, in 2014, Facebook registered £105m in revenues. Much of this income came from advertisers that once supported news publishers.
Schlosberg contends that a portion of those revenues could be used to build a fund in order to help Britain’s ailing journalism industry.
He said: “Google gains traffic by using stories generated by the media but it pays nothing for the articles. At first glance this seems okay because readers can clearly see the story source, but for journalism and the media industry this is proving harmful.
We should note that Google News doesn't actually carry any advertising. So what revenue?
But there's more to this ignorance. One of us earns the daily crust in exactly this industry. Producing electronic journalism for the modern audience. And we positively lust after being mentioned in Google News: a prominent placement of a headline there will bring 50,000 readers to a piece: more than the daily circulation of a local newspaper. Something going mildly viral on Facebook will being 500,000 readers to a piece: more than the daily circulation of a many a national newspaper. And crucially, it is not Facebook nor Google which sells the advertisements that those readers see: it is the publication which is hosting the article.
That is, both Facebook and Google are driving money to the publications, not extracting from nor displacing revenue. Which is, of course, why absolutely every news outlet on the planet now trains its journalists how to write copy that is likely to be picked up by Google News and has the potential to go viral on Facebook.
The electronic aggregators drive revenue to the newspapers, not deprive them of it. So why on Earth should the be charged for the privilege of doing so?
We even know what would happen if the attempt was made. In Germany the law became that a publisher could charge Google News a copyright fee for inclusion. Google said charge us and we won't include you: all the publishers agreed that gaining the traffic was worth it to them and thus they do not charge. In Spain the option was removed: Google must pay. Google closed the service leaving the publishers most miffed.
We like think tanks, we are one in fact. But we do think the emphasis should be on the think part there.