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Google reveals plan to pay for free access to paywall sites in UK

googleGoogle has revealed plans which would see it pay for free access to paywalled articles on UK news publishers’ websites.

The technology firm says it will “shortly be starting discussions” with media organisations in the UK about the proposals.

Google has already signed such partnerships with local and national publications in Germany, Australia and Brazil.

The plan was revealed in the company’s response to questions from Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chair of the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the future of journalism.

Lord Gilbert said that he was “disappointed” by evidence given by Google and Facebook when representatives appeared before the committee in a virtual session on 23 June.

In a series of subsequent written questions, he asked Google provide evidence for its claim that it “makes very small amounts of money on news-related queries”.

In response, the company claimed a recent analysis by Google of 100 news publishers globally found that, on average, news publishers kept more than 95pc of digital advertising revenue.

It added: “Since the hearing Google has announced a new licensing programme to pay publishers for a new Google News and Discover experience launching later this year. This will build on the value Google provides through Search and News, and the work of the Google News Initiative.

“Where available, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read paywalled articles on a publishers site.

“The ambition is to let paywalled publishers grow their audiences and subscribers, and to create an opportunity for people to read content they might not ordinarily see.

“To date, Google has signed partnerships with local and national publications in Germany, Australia and Brazil, and will shortly be starting discussions in the UK.”

Last week the Competition and Markets Authority called for the launch of a new competition regulatory regime to tackle Google and Facebook’s market power, after finding that the digital giants’ dominance of advertising markets is having a “profound” impact on news publishers.

Lord Gilbert asked Facebook to justify its claim that it had “no sense in which there is an imbalance of power” between Facebook and publishers.

Edward Bowles, Facebook’s director of public policy for Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, said: “Our aim is, and always has been, to help publishers make best use of their presence on our platform, whether using the free service to drive traffic to their own websites, using our products to monetise their news content or through paid advertising.

“We do this because we want to connect people to quality news, and for the important societal function it provides.

“It is clear that publishers benefit from the investments we have made in producing tools to assist them, such as Instant Articles, in stream advertising in video and branded content and for some publishers, content deals for our Watch video surface.

“Equally, we have seen very significant improvements made by publishers who have invested in their own content and digital capabilities, and found new audiences and established deeper relationships with existing ones through our apps.

“Our goal ultimately is to contribute to sustainable and diverse business models for publishers, and if they find using our platform helpful to that end, we are certainly ready to assist – whether they choose to advertise or not on our platform or whether they decide to post their content on it – because we see the wider societal value of journalism for a healthy functioning democracy.”

Facebook and Google’s full responses can be found here.