Google took the stage during the final day of the INMA European News Media Conference in Amsterdam to answer questions asked by attendees. Benedicte Autret, head of strategic relationships for news and publishers in United Kingdom and Benelux, said the company’s efforts to support sustainable journalism benefit all parties.

“You guys are the professionals of information, of quality information,” Autret said. “If at the end of day there is no quality information to connect users with, the search is going to dwindle.” 

As Google applies lessons from its Europe-based Digital News Innovation Fund (DNI) to its global Google News Initiative (GNI), news media companies across the world have to consider the benefits and risks of working with a company that has long profited from publishers’ work.

Conference moderator Robert Whitehead began the open questioning session by asking the room of news professionals if getting Google funding impacted their relationships with Google.

Three delegates shared their experiences, all responding their companies had not been impacted by funding.

Whitehead then asked if GNI is a bribe to publishers.

“The purpose of GNI and DNI is really to try to give the tools so that media companies can just do their jobs at the best of their abilities and explore and experiment with new business models,” Autret said.

Google's Ethan Gauvin and Benedicte Autret fielded some tough questions about the relationships Google has with publishers and its role in the news media landscape.
Google's Ethan Gauvin and Benedicte Autret fielded some tough questions about the relationships Google has with publishers and its role in the news media landscape.

Ethan Gauvin, Google’s senior analyst of public policy and government relationships, agreed.

“We’ve said from the beginning we think partnership with news companies is the way forward, but you can’t just go out there and say that. You have to put your money where your mouth is. And that’s what we’re doing.”

A member of the audience then asked why news companies, after losing revenue to Google for years, should trust the company now.

Autret referred to Google’s intention to elevate quality journalism and to help news organisations build sustainable business models, saying the company is acting on its promises to news. 

“If there is one thing I am very proud of, it is when we say we do something, we put it in action and we back it up with action,” she said.

Gauvin agreed, adding that a healthy journalism ecosystem benefits Google as much as it benefits news media companies.

“We built Google News to show our users timely, fresh content,” Gauvin said. “And we want to surface the most high-quality authoritative journalism possible. Frankly, we fail in our mission to users if we don’t do that. We want to drive users off our site to publishers.”

Asked about Google and YouTube’s Player for Publishers initiative, Autret said the programme was not canceled but downsized. The pilot showed it took more resources to work well than the company anticipated. Moderator Whitehead commented that it was interesting that one of the world’s largest companies had issues finding enough resources.

Asked about Google’s ranking system within its search engine, Autret said small publishers should not see an impact in their own traffic.

“This has already been a focus for a few years, so I think it’s nothing new,” she said. “I haven’t heard any negative feedback from smaller publishers complaining that they’ve been hit in the ranking.” 

When a participant asked about the contradiction of asking for publisher support when giving away content for free, Autret said that Google took two significant steps in October of last year to support publishers’ reader revenue strategies: making “first click free” optional for publishers and taking action to help publishers remove friction around the customer funnel.

“This is a massive shift in the mindset of the search team,” Autret said.

Whitehead asked about the transaction costs for publishers, which is a 5% fee on desktop and 15% on mobile.

Autret said that part of subscribe with Google is an entitlement piece, as using the platform comes with sign-in recognition, which leads to better search results.

A conference participant then asked if Google had any long-term goals from building relationships.

“I live in London,” Autret said. “What I want in 10 years time: I want the plurality of the media landscape in the U.K. to stay the same ....We want for all of the media companies to be financially sustainable so that the plurality of information is there.”

As a follow-up, the participant said YouTube is comparable to Facebook in the low level of cooperation and poor relationship with publishers and then asked if there were any initiatives planned for the platform.

“We recognise YouTube is as an entirely different piece from Google,” Gauvin said. “There are people at every level of the comp who are thinking about this in the news industry.”

Whitehead then referred to his own history of interviewing media giants of their time on the conference stage. Netscape and MySpace hit a “tech peak,” Whitehead said, and then he asked if Google may go the same way.

We could certainly miss the next big thing,” Gauvin said. “Who is the small startup in a garage somewhere thinking of the product we’re not thinking of?”

Autret pointed to Google’s user-centric focus.

“Google is about serving the user,” she said. “The way the products evolve at the core is the user experience. That’s how we will keep innovating and transforming the business.”

In a final question, Whitehead asked how publishers should work with a company that monetarily benefits from journalism.

“I think publishers should be true to what they try to do and leverage when it makes sense,” Autret said. “We’re giving you the tools, and you should use them as you see fit as a publisher.”