Google's decision to axe its Google News service in Spain—it could hardly agree to pay a tax on links, a fundamental building block of the Internet—will affect all Spanish newspapers, not just those belonging to the powerful publishers' association AEDE, which has pushed hard for the new law. Small bloggers and news sites will be affected and Spanish newspapers will now see a relatively large drop in traffic to their pages. The Spain Report, as a UK limited company registered for business in London, should not, in theory, be affected by the new measures.
International tech observers reacted with horror. "Huge, bad news", tweeted Jeff Jarvis, "Spanish newspapers formed suicide pact, invited Google to pull the trigger. Google did", wrote Dan Gillmor. The story was in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, TechCrunch, Reuters, Engadget, Bloomberg and countless other international business and tech news sites within hours. Brand Spain has already taken the hit.
As Google pointed out in its statement, the company's free search and link service is used by "hundreds of millions of users" around the world to find articles with information about news stories they are interested in and, via links, it sends them to those sites to read the full article, exposing them to whatever business model the media outlet has in place. Importantly: "Google News itself makes no money (we don't show any advertising on the site)".
Now, says the company, Spain's new law: "requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not".
Since the economic crisis began in 2008, Spanish media outlets have suffered the twin economic and technology crises as much or more as journalists in other countries. The latest data from the Spanish Federation of Journalists' Associations (FAPE) show 11,145 journalists have been sacked and 100 media outlets closed since 2008. Free papers, print editions and major news outlets such as state broadcaster TVE, El Mundo and El País have all been affected. Furthermore, for the past 18 months, increasing signs of government influence at major outlets has become evident.
The editors of three of the country's leading newspapers—El Mundo, El País and La Vanguardia—have been changed, most publicly and belligerently in the case of the founding editor of El Mundo, Pedro J. Ramírez. Mr. Rajoy's Popular Party government has also moved towards greater control over state broadcaster TVE, using its absolute majority in parliament to appoint a new chairman. He named the former head of opinion at right-wing paper La Razón as head of news and, on November 28, that man then sacked the business, culture, foreign and society news editors, and their deputies.
Over approximately the same period, users of Spanish online news sites have suffered a noticeable escalation in the use of intrusive pop-up, audio and video ad formats, without parallel in major English-speaking media outlets. Not only do they throw obstacles into the reader's path whilst reading an article, they also prevent the article, and often the whole newspaper and its brand, from being seen for the duration of the ad.
Seen in the context of the past 18 months of media movements in Spain, then—and given the business conclusion seems to be Spanish news publishers will not benefit from the new law as much as they had hoped—it is difficult if not impossible to link the Spanish government's enthusiasm for the Google Tax to its efforts to exert a more robust influence on Spanish media outlets. It is often reported that Mr. Rajoy worries greatly about the image of the country presented in The New York Times or The FT.
Given the size and importance of Google as a search engine, the world will effectively have less access to timely information about events in Spain from next Tuesday. Spanish and international readers who believe in the importance of timely, precise, independent reporting and analysis of national events will have to struggle harder to find that information, as Spain enters a triple election year in 2015, with a seemingly non-stop stream of corruption tales being broadcast to the world.
The Spain Report and other international correspondents in the country will be there for those readers.