Updated Feb 27, 2018

A line to enter a Google product launch in 2017. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images

Last week’s New York Times Magazine cover story, The Case Against Google, made the bold but not-so-uncommon claim that the government should step in with antitrust action against the search juggernaut. But sweeping regulatory actions against platforms could actually be bad for both consumers and publishers.

Why it matters: Punishing Google won't reverse the structural trends the news industry faces — more in-app mobile browsing, slow adoption of new apps and insufficient payments to publishers. Instead the news industry and platforms need to find new profitable ways in which high quality news and information can thrive.

The case for Google: Initiatives such as Google AMP, which drives billions of pageviews to publishers each month, are far superior to any other user experience. AMP’s fast load times and clean, standardized experience have capitalized on user preferences, recreating the app experience without requiring users to download yet another app.

  • Visitors spend 48.2 seconds on AMP compared to only 35.6 seconds on standard mobile pages when coming from Google Search.
  • Only 10% of mobile browsing is spent on mobile web.
  • Nearly one in four people abandon apps after the first use.

Most publishers aren't going to be saved by payments from platforms, anyways. In order for Google to move the needle for the media industry, it would likely need to choose winners, rather than distribute payments across the thousands of publishers that currently rely on Google for distribution.

  • A possible solution could be platforms and publishers approaching a cable-TV-esque bundle that shifts attention to a smaller group of properties that would generate a lion’s share of all attention (and profits).
  • The precedent: the average American TV viewer watches only 17 channels – a far cry from the thousands of publishers that currently depend on Google and other platforms.

The bottom line: Consumer behavior is conclusive. Experiences created by the likes of Google are here to stay.

So, is there a case against Google? While Google provides an irreplaceable service in the news & information industry, there are some legitimate concerns over the power of the tech giant. As the EU’s Margrethe Vestager argues, Google’s aggregation of data, and resulting advertising dominance, squeezes dollars that could otherwise be distributed broadly across advertising-based businesses. This control of data suffocates any competition well before consumers have the chance to form a habit with a competitive product.

Go Deeper:

  • Yale Law Visiting Legal Fellow, Lina Khan, ignited the antitrust conversation in earnest with her eloquent January 2017 essay, Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.
  • Months later, the EU antitrust commission fined Google $2.7 billion, the largest antitrust action against any of “The Four” to date.
  • Anti-platform sentiment has swept through the news media industry over the past year, with thought leaders from Franklin Foerr to Rupert Murdoch, amongst many others, calling for journalism to break free of platforms – or at least for platforms to cough up some of their profits to support publishers.
  • Charles Duhigg's story in the New York Times Magazine on the case against Google.

Rameez Tase is Axios vice president for audience development and insights. Axios is not a participant in Google AMP.

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