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Google schmoozes publishers with $300m investment in anti-fake news and subscription tools

Google says it wants to evolve publishers' business models to 'drive sustainable growth' / The New York Times

Google is launching a charm offensive on publishers with the debut of a ‘Google News Initiative’. Not only will the tech giant seek to combat the spread of fake news during elections with the scheme, but it will also launch a tool to allow readers to subscribe to various media outlets via the click of a button on Google.

Amid ongoing questions about the role of digital platforms in elections, and in light of accusations that millions of Facebook users had their data harvested for political reasons, Google is tackling the spread of misinformation during elections by teaming up with fact-checking organisation First Draft.

The pair will work together to build a ‘Disinfo Lab’ which will identify fake news stories and remove them from Google News rankings. Separately, Google has announced an official partnership with MediaWise – an educational US-based organisation which trains young consumers in how to identify fake news.

Google's ongoing bids to stifle fake news, which have also included demoting unverified sources in its 'Top News' section, follow on from findings in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. The study indicated that while trust in traditional media is riding high at 61%, more than half (59%) of consumers said they were unsure if news stories they viewed were true, while almost seven in 10 said they worried about fake news being used as "a weapon."

Google’s chief business officer Phillip Schindler is pitching announcement of the company's 'News Initiative' as an “effort to help journalism thrive in the digital age." However, in an arena where its biggest rival Facebook has been hit with criticism for de-prioritising publishers in its news feed, Google's updates can also be read as a clear signal of intent that Google is willing to invest to get its publishing partners to continue working with the business.

The second part of the scheme will see the platform launch a ‘Subscribe with Google’ tool that will let consumers subscribe to multiple news outlets via Google – this feature will work to a split revenue model with Google taking a minority slice of the subscription cost, and publishers getting the majority.

When asked by The Drum how much money would go to publishers, a Google spokesperson said: "We have not disclosed the specific revenue split, but the vast majority of revenue goes to the publisher. We take a very small percentage to cover costs of operating the underlying platform."

Google believes having a single point of subscription for news outlets will offer more ease to users, therefore funneling more money into publishers’ pockets. So far, 17 partners across 10 countries have signed up to take part in this including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Telegraph, the Financial Times and La Repubblica.

At its partner leadership summit in October, Google told publishers how it was experimenting with ways to grow their subscriptions using Google data, machine learning, and DoubleClick infrastructure. Today (20 March) it revealed it is now in the early stages of testing a ‘propensity to subscribe’ signal based DoubleClick’s AI models that will make the process of recognising potential subscribers more streamlined for publishers.

The announcements from Google come just months after it abandoned its (unpopular among publishers) 'first free click' policy, which used to force media outlets to offer a minimum of three free-to-view pieces of content per-day.

Finally, Google has said it is launching an open-source tool called Outline that will let newsrooms provide journalists with more secure access to the internet, making it easier for organisations to set up their own VPN on a private server for confidential stories or tips.

Schindler said that over the next three years Google will commit $300m towards meeting the goals set out in this initiative.

He added: "We’re also deepening our commitment to building products that address the news industry’s most urgent needs. In the past, we’ve done this by working closely alongside the industry in product working groups, resulting in projects like AMP and the DNI. We’ll be expanding that model globally."

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