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Google and Facebook should abandon Australian news

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 5 February 2021

Twenty-two years ago this year I first published On Line Opinion. We beat Crikey into cyberspace by a month or so, which makes us the first online-only journal of politics and current affairs in this country.

My partner in crime, Lionel Hogg (junior, and not to be confused with senior who edited the Brisbane Telegraph) and I could see that all news would migrate to the net, and that this was the biggest disruption since the introduction of the printing press.

We didn't want to die wondering what it would be like to be part of that revolution.


Over the last 20 years I've seen legacy media make the most elementary mistakes which have contributed to the dumbing down of political culture and the hyper -sensationalising and -sexualising of media coverage.

The government's proposal, at the urging of legacy media, to force Google and Facebook to pay them a fee for referring readers to them is just another elementary mistake from an industry that thinks it is the smartest in the country.

Rather than redressing inequality, it is in the grand Australian history of larceny. If anything Australia's publishers should be paying Google and Facebook for delivering them readers.

Without Google and Facebook, Australia's publishers would die. They are the guides who bring readers to the websites and give the publishers a chance to convince them to pay for specific content or view ads on their sites.

In the early days of the net a lot of content was subject to paywalls, then those came down (honourable mention for the Wall Street Journal who never succumbed) and the race for market share, or eyeballs was on.

How was news to be paid for? These were the "Field of Dreams" days – venture capitalists would break an arm and a leg, yours as well as theirs, to lose money on projects without any obvious financial model.


Then came the days of the "free-to-air" model, which had been so successful for television and radio. At one stage Crikey was charging up to $90 per thousand ad impressions, and business analysts were forecasting that ad revenues would grow.

But the "free-to-air" model only worked because of limited broadcast bandwidth which was auctioned-off to media companies, giving them an oligopoly, with oligopolist returns – who else but an oligopolist could afford to pay characters like Eddie McGuire in the millions?

Now rates are generally under $1 per thousand meaning the advertising model can't work in small markets like Australia - or on any but the most massive sites, with the lowest overheads - leading to a hybrid model where some publications enforce a hard paywall, and others timidly feed you limited amounts of free material before kindly asking whether you might be prepared to pay.

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This article was first published in The Spectator.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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