German Publisher Axel Springer: Loss Of Snippets Caused 80 Percent Traffic Drop

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Axel Springer, Germany’s largest publisher and the owner of Europe’s largest newspaper, has said it wants back in to snippets.

According to Reuters, the German publishing giant revealed that traffic to its four largest online properties from Google search results “had fallen by 40 percent” and referrals from Google News had dropped “by 80 percent in the past two weeks.”

We previously reported on the decision by VG Media, a consortium of German publishers including Axel Springer, to opt back in to snippets because of a significant traffic decline that would have potentially caused some of its members “to go bankrupt.” 

Google has long maintained in its disputes with publishers that it sends valuable traffic their way. This episode seems to vindicate that argument. Yet, the decision to opt back in to snippets is not a truce but a temporary cease fire as the German publisher bitterly acknowledged its dependence on Google traffic.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the country’s relatively new “ancillary copyright” law, Axel Springer had opted out of Google snippets for properties welt.de, computerbild.de, sportbild.de and autobild.de, according to the Reuters report.

This followed a complicated back and forth under the copyright law regarding how much publisher content would be included in Google results. VG Media had sought to compel Google to include its content but also to pay for it. Google opted to reduce publisher content to headlines to minimize its potential liability under the new copyright rules.

Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner previously wrote an “Open Letter to Eric Schmidt” in which he said his company was “afraid of Google”:

Google is a prime example of a market-dominating company. With a seventy-percent global market share, Google defines the infrastructure on the Internet . . . there are search engines with market shares of up to 6 percent. These are pseudo-competitors.

The market belongs to a single company . . . Google is not only market-dominating but super market dominating.

Doepfner’s acknowledgement of the importance of snippets was evidence of this market dominance, he argued. And, he called again for regulatory intervention by the EU.

There’s a general consensus among regulators and politicians in Europe that Google is a “monopoly.” There’s a corresponding desire to restrain Google in some fashion; however, no one has been able to agree on a precise remedy, and Google’s rivals have kept the political pressure on, thwarting previous settlement proposals.

Spain recently followed Germany in passing a similarly restrictive copyright law. That will likely cause a similar snippets drama to play out in that country. Yet, newly installed Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger wants to see a Europe-wide version of Germany’s ancillary copyright law.

The ultimate ambition of all these efforts is to freeze Google search results and compel the company to index and showcase publisher content while legally forcing it to pay for that content — essentially a link tax.

That may seem outrageous. However, PC World previously discussed the possibility that any attempt by Google to de-index or completely delist publishers from search results could be a violation of European antitrust law.

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