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Google "doubling down" on news, publisher traffic explodes

According to new data from Chartbeat, the vast majority of traffic growth publishers are seeing from platforms is now coming from Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) — or fast-loading mobile article pages on Google Search and Google News.

Why it matters: As Facebook pulls back from publisher traffic referrals in the News Feed, Google General Counsel Kent Walker tells Axios that Google is "doubling down" on news, specifically using Google AMP. The data from Chartbeat shows it's working.

Reproduced from Chartbeat; Chart: Axios Visuals

"We believe in the importance of news. We are not backing away from news — we are doubling down on news," Walker said at an Axios/Edelman event in San Francisco Tuesday. 

According to the data, mobile is driving almost all traffic growth for publishers from platforms, and has been since at least early 2017.  And traffic to publishers using AMP specifically is up 100% since 2017.

"That type of growth in a year is simply stunning."
— Chartbeat CEO John Saroff

Chartbeat's referral data corroborates that of Parse.ly's, which has shown steady Facebook traffic referral declines for publishers since last fall. 

Data: Parse.ly referrer dashboard; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Walker says AMP, which streamlines and speeds up the article-reading experience on mobile, has become a significant part of Google's focus on improving publisher relationships. 

  • "We found from our research people are increasingly consuming their news on mobile devices and if you have to wait for pictures to download, articles to download, and for ads to download, the amount of news you consume drops dramatically." 

Google has been working for months to make changes to AMP that would make it a more engaging product that could compete with other news distributors, primarily Snapchat.

  • Earlier this week, it announced that it's working with nearly a dozen web publishers to create Snapchat-like "Stories," strings or video and photos, within AMP. 

For publishers, managing traffic distribution on web platforms has been a bumpy ride.

  • Facebook has launched and pulled back on a few news experiments, causing publishers to get caught up in investments that don't always pan out. The head of its Journalism Project Campbell Brown said twice at Recode's Code Media conference on Monday that they should've been more transparent around experiments and tests.
  • While the vast majority of publishers are finding success on Snapchat Discover, one outlier is CNN, which is still working the platform to find the best way to engage younger audiences.
  • Up-and-coming traffic distribution platforms like Apple News and Flipboard continue to drive more traffic to publishers, although some have complained that monetization on Apple News has been difficult.

The big issue: how to pay publishers fairly. 

  • Facebook said last June it was paying publishers using Instant Articles, its version of AMP, more than $1 million per day through via Facebook Audience Network. But according to a Columbia Journalism Review report, more than half of publishers have stopped using Instant Articles and other reports suggest that some publishers are frustrated with the products' business model.
  • Snapchat said on its latest earnings call that it paid out publishers $100 million in 2017, but Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next (DCN), the premium publishing trade group, tweeted that he disagreed with the numbers.
  • Google says in the past year, publishers on AMP have generated up to $6 million per week from ads using Google AdSense and Doubleclick Ad Exchange, earning 3X more revenue per day. According to a report published last week by DCN, the two platforms that the highest number of publishers are monetizing are Facebook and YouTube, followed by Google AMP and Snapchat (tied), then Twitter and Instagram.

In response to revenue strife, many news executives ranging from News Corp's Rupert Murdoch to Buzzfeed's Jonah Peretti have called on Facebook and others to pay publishers a cut for distributing their content, similar to how cable and TV networks operate.

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