Executives from Google and Facebook’s Australian offices were dragged in front of a Senate hearing where they were savaged by Green politician Sarah Two Dads, which must have been scary for them.
If you missed the story, the chronology can be summarised as follows:
1989 Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web
1998 Larry Page created Google
2020 The Australian news industry discovered the internet
2021 Australian politicians tried to tax the internet
Ok, there’s a bit more to it than that….but not much.
To get a completely unbiased version of events, read this article published by the Sydney Morning Herald, an organisation whose entire raison d’être was to write about new stuff, yet has failed to change its business model every year since 1998.
As Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, two things can be true at once. Google and Facebook can be ruthless and unscrupulous operators, willing to steal content and commoditise everything they touch AND the Australian news media can be guilty of failing to adapt their business model to make money and not have to keep firing journalists.
In the unlikely event Google switch off their search engine in Australia, nobody should care. Other search engines are available and some, such as Duck Duck Go claim not to track you like a Stasi surveillance team.
I suspect the politicians will blink first, but who really cares anyway.
What is most amusing is the news outlets most exercised by this. Outlets like The Australian and, in the UK, The Times, Telegraph and Spectator have all made a success of the paywall model. This Australian spat says more about the outlets who haven’t, doesn’t it?
Newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald are desperate for a government handout, nominally paid for by Google. To understand why, one only needs to answer the following question; “where would a Sydney Morning Herald reader go for free news if they locked the paywall?”.
The answer is, of course, the government news agency, The ABC.
The SMH can’t compete because they have no Unique Selling Point to offer to someone whose politics leans towards the left.
Yet don’t expect to see calls in the SMH for The ABC to be defunded.
It’s the Australian equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.
As for losing the Google search option in Australia…. I’m reminded of this exchange in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
Prosser: Mr. Dent, have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?
Dent: How much?
Prosser: None at all.