The hard part about winning "king of the hill" is fending off a multi-pronged attack that comes at you from all sides. Google is finding that out the hard way and finding themselves faced with yet another complaint about the way they do business.

On the heels of a lawsuit from French news agency AFP, Google is now facing a similar complaint from the Associated Press. The L.A. Times ran an article on Monday that talks about the differences between Yahoo! news and Google's news search. The article mentioned that the Associated Press is not happy with Google's collection and use of their material and are "in talks" with the search engine to try and work out a deal.

There's no mention of a lawsuit, yet, but the articles quotes the AP's Jane Seagrave as saying "We believe AP content has value online, and we expect to be compensated for it."

The strange part about this story is that they already are being compensated for it by the sites that publish their stories. Articles and blog posts that I've read about this issue often point out that Yahoo! pays a content licensing fee for the AP content while Google simply picks it up with a spider and adds it to their index. The problem with this comparison is that Yahoo! displays the entire text of the article so that a reader can get it all without leaving the Yahoo! site. The Google news site displays just a headline, text snippet and thumbnail image of the story. Google news isn't in the business of providing content, they are in the business of pointing people toward content.

The Associated Press seems to be making the same mistake that AFP did...assuming that their clients won't mind if they [AP] take away a major traffic source. Search Engine Guide documented this exact issue last month with two articles by guest author Bob Hoffman. Hoffman, an AFP customer explained how the lawsuit had nearly ruined his own news site and also pointed out how the move could create long-term damage to the blogosphere.

The Associated Press and other content syndicates make their money by selling their articles and photos to third party news sites. Those sites make money by attracting readers which in turn help attract advertisers. By attempting to force Google to either pay for content, or stop indexing it, the Associated Press is putting their syndication customers in a precarious position. While many news sites would still do just fine without being included in the Google News engine, the reality is that Google News is a heavy traffic producer for more than a few sites.

Thankfully, some companies seem to get the idea behind Google News. The L.A. Times quotes Reuters spokeswoman Susan Allsopp as stating "We're very much trying to drive traffic to our sites. There's no question that Google and the other [news aggregator] sites are incredibly important."

Google News has just barely cracked the top ten when it comes to news site traffic levels. According to ComScore Media Metrix Google News was the tenth most visited news site in February of this year. They trail behind sites like Yahoo!, AOL, MSNBC and CNN.come. However, their traffic is also up nearly 90% from this time last year. With the site still in beta and growing at a steady pace, it's only a matter of time before even more syndicates start to consider the issue of indexing and traffic from the site.

With past court cases already creating a precedence for the legality of creating links from one site to another, it seems unlikely that Google's news service would extend beyond "fair usage" laws. At the same time, the suit from AFP resulted in Google simply clearing all sites using AFP content from its news index. It's possible that in the face of a lawsuit, Google would choose to use the same method to clear AP content from the site. The resulting loss of traffic to AP syndicates could be substantial, and it's unlikely that customers would appreciate paying the same amount of money while receiving less traffic.

It will be a worthwhile story to watch as the future of online news publication and aggregation could be impacted by what happens in this case.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
April 13, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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