Why the News Media Bargaining Code could kill your favourite websites

Here's why the News Media Bargaining Code won't work. This is our view on why Google and Facebook are vital to publishing.

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Alborz Fallah and Paul Maric

Writing automotive content is our main caper and we apologise for taking you away from regular programming, but the News Media Bargaining Code is a topic we feel very strongly about and we needed to share our views.

A proposal by the Australian Federal Government aims to force Google and Facebook to pay big media organisations for the traffic it sends them, in addition to allowing them access to part of your user data, and notice of search algorithm changes.

This proposed code will artificially inflate the search ranking of dominant news media organisations on Google and Facebook, and force some of your favourite websites and YouTube channels further down the search list.

This could deliver you lower-quality content, or content constructed to artificially increase click-through rates, and in turn increase revenue for big publishers.

What does the code propose?

  • The code aims to even out of an alleged power imbalance between Google/Facebook and news organisations
  • The code will require Google and Facebook to enter into individual negotiations with up to 200 Australian media outlets, and force Google and Facebook to pay those outlets for the traffic they’re sent
  • The code will force Google and Facebook to share details of algorithm changes with these media outlets to help them maintain a superior position in search results
  • The code will force Google and Facebook to share user data about your interactions with news content with these 200 or so media outlets
  • The code will add up to $16 million in regulatory costs to the industry segment
  • The code will apply to core news publishers that earn over $150,000 in revenue per year, and doesn’t include specialist news websites.

What does the code mean for small publishers like CarExpert?

“The constant attack on Google highlights how little big publishers actually understand about search algorithms and the way average consumers search for content,” said Paul Maric, CarExpert.com.au co-founder and managing editor.

CarExpert.com.au could not exist today and employ around 20 staff without the search engine’s fairness in how it treats all publishers.”

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is a specialised art that rewards high-quality content and websites making their content as accessible and shareable as possible.

SEO dictates where your website ranks on Google and Facebook, and also determines how the algorithms of these two organisations interact with your content.

Why the News Media Bargaining Code could kill your favourite websites

Search positions can’t be bought by companies, which is why it relies on high-quality journalism and content that people want to read ahead of the size of an organisation, or how much money they can throw at advertising.

“Going back 15 years, when I founded CarAdvice in 2006, without Google it would have been crushed by traditional publishers like News Corp and Fairfax and their market dominance,” said Alborz Fallah, co-founder and publisher of CarExpert.com.au.

“The fact CarAdvice.com.au was sold to Nine/Fairfax, Australia’s largest media company in 2018, is a testament to the power of Google in building brands. Ironically its new owner is clearly not a fan of Google’s approach to content.”

This proposed code means when you search for a review of your favourite car, instead of seeing CarExpert on the first page of Google as part of fair treatment by the algorithm, you may see a listicle or another piece of content from a big news publisher with inside knowledge of Google’s algorithm.

Why the News Media Bargaining Code could kill your favourite websites

This piece of content you see from a big news publisher may be lower quality, and it may also have less to do with what you’re looking for, simply because the outlet has advance notice of algorithm changes and access to data helping better determine how to make that page rank well for a particular search term.

This is a luxury sites like CarExpert currently don’t – and never will – have.

Making big media even bigger

Despite some big news publishers generating millions (and even billions) of dollars in revenue each year, a lack of adaption to the internet has meant their cut-through has been limited.

The proposal aims to make Google and Facebook pay money for each click that’s sent to their website. This is traffic they never paid for, traffic that has come from people searching organically for things on Google.

Why the News Media Bargaining Code could kill your favourite websites

Big news publishers will then generate further revenue off each of those clicks by displaying a high number of ads on each story. In effect they’re double dipping with each person that visits their site via Google and Facebook.

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think that Google or Facebook pay enough tax in Australia, but instead of making an equitable system that benefits all publishers, the proposed code is simply making the rich even richer, the big media publications even bigger.

It’s also worth pointing out even if our website was included in the code, we still wouldn’t accept money from Google or Facebook for traffic because it’s a poor business model to build on, and simply makes you reliant on headlines and traffic that may mislead readers for additional clicks.

Why the News Media Bargaining Code could kill your favourite websites

Why we’re here for the long run

Even if this code passes and Google and Facebook is forced to pay big news publishers money, it simply feeds our urge to succeed as an independent publisher.

We’re used to having the chips stacked against us and know the rewards hard work can bring.

Rest assured that even if we’re forced to fight with our hands behind our backs, we will continue bringing you superior content with no display ads.

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