Through much of last year, the Associated Press threw public barbs and veiled threats at Google, while in private it was renegotiating its licensing agreement with Google News. That agreement is believed to be up for renewal at the end of this month, yet no new AP stories have appeared directly on Google News since December 23, 2009. (AP stories licensed by other news sites such as ABC News or the New York Times do continue to appear, however). So what’s going on here? Is that the end of AP stories on Google News?
I’ve been doing some sniffing around, and it is not the AP that is withholding its content. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that older AP content from before Christmas continues to be available on Google News. If the AP were no longer licensing its articles to Google, those older articles likely would also no longer be available. (The AP has talked about withholding news from certain licensees for a set period of time, but those were measured in minutes and hours, not weeks, and it would operate on a rolling basis. The AP stories on Google News just stop on December 23).
So it appears that Google made a unilateral decision. What’s going on here reminds me of what News Corp does to Time Warner Cable every four years or so when the contract for all the Fox television channels comes up. Fox threatens to pull its channels in a very public manner, and then at the eleventh hour a deal is struck, just like what happened on New Year’s. Google is trying its own Foxy negotiating tactic here. It is showing the AP in a very visible way what will happen if Google News no longer carries AP stories, and they are doing this before the negotiations are up so that the AP can measure the loss in readership that Google News brings.
In the TV world, it’s the content companies such as Fox, which have the negotiating leverage because they bring the audience. It almost seems like Google is trying to prove the opposite is true with online news: that distribution is king, not content. Meanwhile, on Friday, Google News gussied up its home page by adding its Fast Flip project at the bottom (see screenshot below), and is highlighting other newspaper partners with its “Living Stories” project. Whether or not we ever see AP headlines on Google News again depends on which one needs the other one more, and who concedes first in the negotiations.
Which would you rather live without, Google News or the AP?