Le Monde is among the groups to have discussed payments for content with Google © Bloomberg

Google in talks with French publishers on paying for news

Le Monde and Le Figaro are among the groups involved in early discussions


Google is talking to some of France’s biggest news publishers about making direct payments for content, a potentially significant shift by the search platform towards a model used by Facebook in the US.

Exploratory discussions with media groups including Le Monde and Le Figaro have touched on developing new products that would include financial deals to license news. Google has also talked to some US media groups about the plans, according to people familiar with the matter. 

“We want to help people find quality journalism — it’s important to informed democracy and helps support a sustainable news industry,” said Richard Gingras, vice-president for news at Google, who said the group was “talking with partners and looking at more ways to expand our ongoing work with publishers”.

While the discussions are at an early stage and several models are being considered, there are echoes with Facebook’s recent shift in approach. In October the social media platform launched a news tab feature in the US following multimillion-dollar deals with outlets including BuzzFeed, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. 

After years of lambasting big internet platforms for failing to pay for content, Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp, described Facebook’s move as a “powerful precedent that will echo around editorial newsrooms”. 


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France is a test ground for Google’s change of approach because of the fierce political reaction to its response to the EU’s new copyright directive, which the country is the first member state to implement. 

To the anger of French ministers who denounced the approach as against “the spirit and letter” of the law, Google said it would show only headlines to news stories in France, sidestepping the need to reach licensing deals to pay for snippets of journalism. In the past the group has warned that aggressive application of the copyright directive could force it to withdraw its news service from Europe altogether.

Google insists it will, on principle, refuse to “pay for links”. But it has privately acknowledged to French publishers that it wants to extend its support for journalism, potentially through new products that would give some brands greater prominence and reach as well as direct income.

Given that there are many publishers competing for attention . . . it seems most likely that any licensing deals will be for a small subset of truly premium publishersRasmus Kleis, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Such deals would mark a significant departure for the search platform, which has provided financial backing to journalism through its Google News initiative but largely avoided direct content deals.

One template could be the model the US group has used for news briefings on its voice platform, Google Assistant, in which it makes substantial payments to audio news providers for their material to be used.

Any new Google products as a result of the discussions are likely to be narrowly focused, either by type of publisher or form of content, said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of Oxford university’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Given that there are many publishers competing for attention . . . it seems most likely that any licensing deals will be for a small subset of truly premium publishers,” he said.

Overtures to individual publishers will nevertheless be highly contentious in France, where the biggest news organisations have tried to maintain a common front in support of the copyright directive. Google’s first suggestions were received coolly by some publishing executives, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

Angela Mills Wade, of the European Publishers Council, noted the advantages to news groups of enforcing the “publishers’ right” in the new copyright law. 

“It gives publishers control over how their content is re-used, who can use it and under what terms and conditions,” she said. “It strengthens the publishers’ negotiating power to find solutions that should be a win-win for publishers, large distributors of content like Google and Facebook, and consumers.”

Additional reporting by Leila Abboud