Australia's big tech diktat: Is it a possibility in India?

Experts say a pre-emptive negotiation is the best solution for the Indian digital news ecosystem as most publishers cannot afford the loss of reach and referrals the tech giants offer

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Feb 22, 2021 8:56 AM

Australia recently introduced a world-first law to make Google, Facebook and other internet giants pay media outlets for their news content. Indian news publishers have welcomed this diktat by the Australian government. According to publishers here in the country, it is only fair that they get a reasonable share of the big bucks the internet giants make from their content.

While the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has been in talks with Google for over six months to negotiate financial benefits for print content digitally, in Australia, a couple of news publishers have managed to strike a deal with the tech giant through long-term partnerships.

The recent order in Australia has given Indian publishers hope for an early deal here as well.

Albeit, publishers remained tight-lipped about conversations with Google they agreed on how financial benefits could help them keep their cause afloat.

“Good quality journalism costs money and funding alone can save the cause. Each and every story the publisher puts out includes a lot of hard work on the ground and the entire process is expensive and it is only fair that publishers are compensated for it. What is happening in Australia is right because this is the only way the fourth estate can sustain itself,” said Malayala Manorama Executive Editor Jayant Mathew.

Most publishers are of similar opinion.

“What is happening in Australia should also happen in India. The platforms take almost all of the ad revenue while the content populated on their platform is generated with a lot of hard work and a lot of costs around newsgathering. In Australia, it is a regulatory body that has negotiated and brought this matter to where it is even though there is a stand-off right now with Facebook. It will be interesting to see where this goes as Facebook has claimed that less than 4% of traffic on its platform is news, therefore, distancing itself from the kind of platform that Google is,” said The Quint co-founder and CEO and DigiPub office-bearer Ritu Kapur.

According to Kapur, India should emulate Australia whether it is MIB, MeitY, or a separate regulatory body that needs to be set up for negotiating this. “There is a need for consensus between legacy players and the independent digital players so that we don't arrive at something which benefits a certain kind of news body. The government should recognise what is required and we have to understand till what point there should be regulation,” she said.

While there is no denying that Google and Facebook dominate the dissemination of news content beyond the geographical reach that traditional media offer, there is also a downside to it. “Both the tech giants get a major chunk of the revenue from the content they post, even though they are not the original possessor of the news,” said Shradha Agarwal, COO, Grapes Digital. 

She explained how today, the majority of users don't have the time to open the individual app/websites of any news portal and hence readers are now used to getting all the news in one place giving Facebook and Google the huge command over news feeds. However, according to Agarwal, if an Australia-like situation was to happen in India, the noise would be louder and the impact bigger.

But why?

“In India, there are 300 million users of online news sites, portals, and aggregators in the country — making up approximately 46% of internet users and 77% of smartphone users at the end of 2019. With 282 million unique visitors, India is the second-largest online news consuming nation after China. If something like this happens in India, and if the government brings some clause related to this, it will have big consequences. On one side, it will affect the reach and revenue of various news portals that are associated with Facebook and secondly Facebook will bear the brunt of lost users,” she explained.

Any such movement in India will heavily impact the digital advertising industry that deeply depends on Facebook these days.

The best option, according to experts, would be to pre-emptively negotiate deals with publishers and reach a solution where both the parties get their pie of the share.

Perhaps a pre-emptive negotiation is the best solution for the Indian digital news ecosystem as most publishers cannot afford the loss of reach and referrals the tech giants’ offer.

 "In the context of a non-touch world, where the physical circulation itself of publications had been substantially reduced in the early days of lockdown, platforms such as Facebook and Google were easy means for publishers to reach their audiences and promote the consumption of digitised content. With nearly a 400 million online news consumers in the country, a blackout of news content on platforms such as Facebook and Google might severely throttle the reach of publishers and would make it so much more harder for them to expand their audiences,” said Abhinay Bhasin, Vice President (Asia Pacific), Data Sciences, dentsu.

With inputs from Javed Farooqui

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