UK publishers warned to take stronger stance against Google and Facebook

News UK strategy chief said regulatory change is needed.

Publishing Summit: Costello, Willis, Nolan and Spanier
Publishing Summit: Costello, Willis, Nolan and Spanier

The UK publishing industry needs to take a stronger stance against the dominance of Google and Facebook, News UK’s chief strategy officer, Alison Dolan, has warned.

Talking about the government’s investigation into online platforms and the digital advertising market at the Campaign Publishing Summit in London yesterday (Tuesday), Dolan told the audience that publishers need to collaborate to talk about the value of their content and the value that Google drives for itself from that content.

The Competition & Markets Authority launched an investigation in July to explore whether competition in digital advertising is producing "good outcomes" for consumers. The CMA plans to publish its findings in July 2020.

Dolan said: "I do think it’ll need a regulatory change to get Google to a point where they are prepared to pay for content which is very far from where they are currently.

"It’s going to need a strong effort from the UK publishers and we need to collaborate more than we have been to date on how we actually get Google to the table and get them to pay for content."

Lorna Willis, chief client officer at Archant, agreed with Dolan: "We kind of have allowed this ourselves over the last 10 years – I think sometimes pigeons learn faster. We have a huge power as an industry that we just do not yield because we will not work together."

Haymarket Media (owner of Campaign) chief executive Kevin Costello echoed these views, adding that there have been many attempts to create joint initiatives – be it through the PPA or Newsworks – but "there’s never been any great confidence to step up and tackle what is actually an endemic issue".

Should journalists be SEO experts?

The panel, chaired by Campaign global head of media Gideon Spanier, also discussed how their content is distributed and Dolan said that News UK (which publishes The Times and The Sun) and other publishers have been "too slow to respond to reader behaviour".

She explained: "We have [in the past] turned our noses up to certain ways of reaching readers. We do need to recognise how reader behaviour is changing and how we respond to that. The journalist's job is to create brilliant content and, yes, they need to know about engagement, but telling them to become SEO experts is [not a good strategy]."

Costello agreed that journalists do not need to be experts in SEO, but they do need a deeper relationship with their audiences to get "inside their minds".

Willis added that Archant, which publishes about 50 local newspapers and 40 specialist magazines, want its journalists to be out and about with their ear to the ground, but it also needs them to have an understanding of SEO to see how visible their content is.

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