Last week, the Italian government began an investigation into Google and Google News about allegations of anti-competitive behavior. (For more details, read Google’s initial response or Danny Sullivan’s take). Italian newspaper publishers claim that Google News is stealing readers from them who skim the headlines on Google News and never bother to click through. It is a familiar refrain, to which the obvious response is: If newspapers want readers to click on their headlines, maybe they should write better headlines.
But implicit in these arguments, and an investigation into how Google News is somehow stifling competition in the Italian news industry is that Google News dominates the news in Italy, at least online. That is not the case. According to comScore, the Italian audience of Google News is smaller than at least two of the largest Italian newspaper sites, La Republicca and Corriere Della Sera. In July, Google News had 2.4 million Italian readers versus 3.8 million for both of those Italian newspaper sites. (These numbers reflect only visitors from Italy).
While Google News is a decent size in Italy, it by no means dominates the news category. Not to mention that some portion of those 2.4 million visitors are presumably clicking through to news sites when a headline interests them. That could be an Italian news site, or an Italian-language site from a different country, or even a news site or a blog half way around the world. If anything, Google News promotes competition among news outlets.
It creates hyper-competition, which is really why newspapers (everywhere) are up in arms against Google. They don’t like the Web, but they can’t sue the Web. So they are going after Google instead.
The Italian publishers also allege that if they opt out of Google News, they won’t show up in regular search results, something which Google says is untrue. It doesn’t really make much sense. Presumably, a news article is a high-quality result. The more of those that Google can show in regular search results, the better those overall results and the more related ads it can run alongside them. That is how Google makes money, not from news. But if Google is indeed punishing Italian publishers who choose not to be in Google News results with less visibliity on Google’s main search page, they should be able to prove it with a few simple search examples.