Google’s Article 11 Compliant News Service Shows 45% Drop in Traffic

In a rather timely update, Google says that its Article 11 compliant news service saw a 45% drop in traffic.

We’ve been following the debate about the near universally rejected Article 11 and Article 13 legislation in Europe. Two days ago, despite widespread opposition, the legislation passed the Trilogue stage. Now it’s headed to two final votes at this point. The legislation was slammed by digital rights advocates as being the worst version yet.

While the threats to freedom of expression and the free and open Internet are very real, you might remember a test done by Google for it’s news service. Back in January, Google began testing an article 11 compliant news service in Europe. At the time, users saw no pictures, snippets, or URLs. Just some squares and links to the home pages of some of the largest news services operating in the region. Some remarked that it just looks like the page simply failed to load.

Now, statistics are emerging from that experiment. It turns out, Google did more than just show what the service would look like should the copyright directive pass, but also gathered actual data on the effects of traffic. From 9to5Google:

Last month, Google conducted a Search experiment to “understand the impact of the proposed Article 11.” This included news results in Search that only featured URLs, very short fragments of headlines, or no preview images. The company reports that “all versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers.”

Even a moderate version of the experiment (where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails) led to a 45 percent reduction in traffic to news publishers. Our experiment demonstrated that many users turned instead to non-news sites, social media platforms, and online video sites—another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism. Searches on Google even increased as users sought alternate ways to find information.

As an alternative, Google suggests that Article 11 allow the “sharing of facts and the use of traditional limited previews—whether text-based snippets or other visual formats like thumbnail photos—which provide needed context for web users.” The company also believes that the Copyright Directive should let publishers grant free licenses to tech companies, which is currently prohibited in the draft proposal. Meanwhile, Google could shutdown Google News in Europe as a result of Article 11.

It’s not realistic to expect that online services would be able to put commercial licenses in place with every single news publisher. If it’s only payment, and not quality, that decides which headlines users get to see, the results would be bad for both users and smaller and emerging publishers.

For a lot of news publishers out there, access to Google news means that publisher gets a lot of added traffic. That traffic, in turn, gives that publisher added subscriptions or ad revenue. So while some vocal proponents of the link tax might laugh and say that this only hurts Google, the question is, where does that traffic go in the first place when Google links to you? It may hurt Google’s bottom line somewhat, but it’ll likely have a much more significant impact on publishers who can’t afford a, say, 30% drop in traffic.

To add to this, the Internet is a global phenomenon. As such, publishers outside of Europe may actually stand to benefit once European sources of news is wiped off the map. Less competition means the traffic will likely fall back on them. This, in turn, hurts European publishers and, perhaps, the European identity because offshore news services are all that’s left enjoying the free and open Internet. So, European’s may have to rely on foreign sites to get the European news.

Obviously, there is still time to put a stop to this, but certainly a very bleak outlook for publishers should these laws pass.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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