back to article Where's my money?! Now USA Today publisher sues Google over online advertising

American newspaper publisher Gannett is throwing its weight behind the hottest trend in digital advertising: suing Google for unfairly and abusively monopolizing the entire industry. Allegedly. Gannett, which most famously publishes USA Today, joins multiple US states and the federal government, the UK's Competition and …

  1. jake Silver badge

    A couple questions for Gannett's lawyers:

    "Internet advertising, Gannett's lawyers argued in their case, should have been a windfall for publishers shifting from print to online because it would allow the selling of millions of advertising slots alongside content."

    What is this thing you call "Internet advertising", and where is it written that I have to view it at the insistence of your client?

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: A couple questions for Gannett's lawyers:

      Sites are free to put advertising in their content.

      For some strange reason they generally prefer to embed advertising content from third parties. We, as consumers, are wholly free to refuse such embeds. For a variety of reasons, including entirely justified fears about security, I am one such refusenik.

      Newspapers which depend on advertising should serve the ads themselves, and accept responsibility for any bad behaviour which might result. They can also then set their own ratecards.

      We really don't need the likes of Doubleclick.

      -A.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        'should serve the ads themselves'

        One interesting aspect of this - speaking generally about the online publishing world - is that no one believes each other.

        If a vendor goes direct to a B2B publication, books an ad campaign, pays $20,000 for 300,000 ad impressions, and then after a few days or weeks, the publication says, 'ta-da, all done, thanks for the money,' that vendor may be skeptical the ads were actually all served to real humans. Especially when the ads are targeted and we're in an era of ad-blocking.

        So the advertiser wants in on the analytics to verify the campaign was truly fulfilled and/or to see it progress in real time. The ads in that case end up being served by or involve a third-party both the advertiser and the publication trust / willing to use.

        I'm simplifying here to avoid talking about specific operations, and we're happy with our ad clients, and our ad clients are happy with us, of course. My point is, the industry is a very very long way from placing a banner ad on a page and letting it run its course. It's more complex than most may think.

        C.

        1. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

          Re: 'should serve the ads themselves'

          Should the industry has come a long way from placing a banner ad on a page and letting it run its course.

          If newspapers simply embedded fixed content on their pages (like they used to) everything is up front and visible to all. Every view is the same.

          It's all about targeted advertising, and not only does targeted advertising involve marketing and leaking PI, it has also destroyed journalism.

          The best way to help journalism regain its financial mojo would be for congress to mandate that giving up PI and being subject to targeted ads be an opt-in choice.

        2. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: 'should serve the ads themselves'

          Yes, well the death of third party cookies will put paid to that.

          I work for a media buying agency. Everyone is desperately piling in to marketing mix modelling right now.

          -A.

          1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

            Third party cookies

            Yeah, the end of those cookies will be like that moment in the Titanic movie when the boat splits in half and tips up. There's those who manage to hang on and those who fall.

            It's gonna be like that for publications IMHO. We'll see who prepared for it and who didn't. It's something we've been working on for a while.

            C.

    2. jasonbrown1965

      Re: A couple questions for Gannett's lawyers:

      . . .

      Advertising:

      a means by which revenue is diverted from content creators.

      Internet:

      a means by which revenue diversion creates content exponetiality.

      Gannet:

      allegedly news.

      News:

      wut.

      Courts:

      Given the lack of countermanding evidence,

      the only news worthy of protection from ad exploitation?

      Is decided by how many dollars can be spent on lawyers.

      Gannet vs Google:

      wut.

      Conclusion:

      you *can* handle the truth.

      you just can't afford it.

      . . .

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Obvious solution - roll your own.

    Remind advertisers of the way they used to do things. They didn't profile readers, they profiled pages and doing that was a no-brainer: you wanted to advertise, say gardening products, you bought space on the gardening pages.

    Remind them as well that the user "targetting" they're spending money on is very often wasted from the advertiser's PoV by repeatedly showing ads to people who already bought that type of product weeks or months ago.

    Remind them that Google sells advertising. Nothing else, advertising. It doesn't sell their goods or services except possibly as a by-product. It just sells advertising and it sells it to them, not their customers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget that their "targeted" advertising often is a bunch of outright spam that nobody in their right mind clicks on. And often has nothing at all to do with the page or the user.

      Guaranteeing an advertised company that their ad will appear only pages that are related to the ad, and therefore much more likely of interest to the user, should allow them to set an increased price. Not to mention cutting out the middleman (i.e. Google) who is taking most of the profits.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      I've blocked over 200 "advertisers" on Twitter since the weekend, because they are pushing tat I have no interest in (NFTs, environmentally unfriendly chemicals, wind farms, women's clothing, investment in solar farms in the desert etc.).

      1. Sherrie Ludwig

        investment in solar farms in the desert

        I have to ask, when I see advertisements soliciting investors, why banks and hedge funds aren't rushing in with bags of money for said investment? Oh, right, because they looked at the numbers and said NOPE. Either the project is bad or the people touting it are scammers.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Megaphone

          The answer is that the banks / hedge funds / etc won't give them the money directly. They will tell you to send them the invoices for solar panels, construction workers, and so on, they will do some checks on them, and send the money to the supplier.

          They want to be sure that if they are investing in solar panels, there are some actual solar panels to show for the money.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Actually ...

            There is a dirty little secret that the greens don't want you to know.

            Put into simple English, the more solar you add to the grid, the less valuable it becomes. It's supply and demand.

            In fact, there are so many PV systems attached to the grid in the US Southwest right now that on bright, sunny days the price of electricity being generated can dip into the negative. This will only get worse as more systems are added.

            So the financial institutions won't touch them with a barge pole ... and who could blame them.

            1. jasonbrown1965

              Re: Actually ...

              "In fact, there are so many PV systems attached to the grid in the US Southwest right now that on bright,

              sunny days the price of electricity being generated can dip into the negative."

              Exactly! Because financial institutions are created to create .. finance.

              Financial institutions not 'touching' extra energy capacity reflects on incentives for financial institutionalism,

              not PV systems.

              If renewables produce consistently excess power surpluses,

              then tier-3 pricing could serve computational excesses overnight,

              or even long timeframes; weekly, monthly, etc.

              Adjusted for sunny days, in other words.

              Weeks, months, climate change, whatever.

            2. jmch Silver badge

              Re: Actually ...

              "...the more solar you add to the grid, the less valuable it becomes. It's supply and demand."

              If it's simply supply and demand, surely you could say exactly the same about nuclear, oil, coal, gas, wind, hydro and indeed any and every means of generating electricity. In practice electrical demand is increasing and will continue to increase as more electric vehicles replace ICE ones, and more heat pumps replace boilers and furnaces.

              " ...so many PV systems attached to the grid in the US Southwest right now that on bright, sunny days the price of electricity being generated can dip into the negative."

              This is an issue with (a) grid distribution (the local grid has to go to negative charging because the grid infrastructure doesn't allow electricity to be 'exported' over long distances) and (b) lack of storage (no idea on this one, grid-scale electrical storage is at least half a century away).

              The better option with solar is molten salt installation that provides less power overall BUT can provide it more evenly throughout day and night, thus smoothing out those peaks and troughs and also the wild price variations.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Actually ...

                "surely you could say exactly the same about nuclear, oil, coal, gas, wind, hydro and indeed any and every means of generating electricity."

                The difference between Solar/PV and most[0] of the other options you list is that PV is only usable when the sun is out, and can't idle along until demand is there. I can run my coal or natural gas plant to produce electricity when demand is high and rates are higher, and throttle back to save money when your Solar/PV plants are online. When your Solar/PV plant is running at capacity, so is every other plant in several hundred square miles, thus producing a glut of electricity that quite often sells at less than what it costs to produce/transport it This will only get worse as more and more PV goes online.

                [0] Wind has similar problems, for the same reasons.

              2. katrinab Silver badge
                Meh

                Re: Actually ...

                Pumped storage has been around for a while, though most suitable sites are already in use, so there isn't so much scope for expanding it.

                Battery storage does exist. There have been reported problems with it, but I would think the solutions are maybe 10 years away at most.

                If you can get paid to charge up the battery, and paid again to discharge it later in the day, that is a very powerful incentive to invest in battery storage technology.

                1. jmch Silver badge

                  Re: Actually ...

                  Just to keep numbers simple (not to mention very wildly approximate).... Let's say I could build a battery farm that charges for free when supply runs in excess of demand, and can then sell it at a high wholesale price when supply is low and demand high (say $400/MWh*)

                  Battery cost at volume is trending towards $100/kWh or $100,000/MWh, meaning I would need to charge / discharge them completely at optimal prices 250 times to break even. Given the real-world probability of less than full charge / discharge cycles, that charging isn't always going to be free, discharging isn't always going to be at optimum price (even more so since the larger my battery farm, the less the price I can get), and high-low difference isn't constant all year round, it would probably take 2-3 years just to break even on the battery cost alone, before considering massive infrastructure costs.

                  At current battery prices, even with optimal rates such a project could at best break even. (And I'm guessing the reason nobody is doing it yet is exactly that no-one can see a profitable way to do it yet)

                  *guesstimated based on https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/update/wholesale-markets.php

                  1. katrinab Silver badge

                    Re: Actually ...

                    Compared to most other projects in the energy sector, a 2-3 year payback is *very* good. And remember that even when the batteries wear out, you can still use all the site preparation and cabling stuff with your replacement batteries.

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: Actually ...

                      That payback was for batteries alone in the OP's scenario. In my experience he's at least an order of magnitude off on the entire project.

                      Site prep, maybe. Chances are good that you'll want more square inches, though. 'Tis the nature of the beast.

                      Cabling? No way. It'll be much cheaper to rip it all out and start from scratch than it will be to adapt the existing cable plant to whatever passes for modern. I base this on having physically upgraded I don't know how many data centers of all sizes over the years.

  3. that one in the corner Silver badge

    Feel the sympathy melt away

    > Internet advertising, Gannett's lawyers argued in their case, should have been a windfall for publishers shifting from print to online

    We are supposed to be sad that you didn't get a windfall? So you are suing because you didn't get something for nothing?

    Trot on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

      They're expecting to get something for the work they did writing and publishing. But according to the publishers, Google ended up with most of it, by both manipulating the ad market and by putting the publishers' content onto Google's systems so the publishers' ads aren't shown.

      1. Dinanziame Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        I'm somehow missing why they think they have a particular standing to sue. "We have a website and we didn't get rich"?

      2. Little Mouse

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        "putting the publishers' content onto Google's systems so the publishers' ads aren't shown"

        For this aspect at least, I think they have a good point. We've all done a Google search and simply expanded the text lifted by Google rather than click through to the website in question.

        But as for the rest of the complaint: They've outsourced the advertising - What did they expect would happen? That's SOP for outsourcing deals. You get ripped off and get a shit service in return,

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

          The problem is, they didn't outsource the advertising voluntarily, it was outsourced away from them. Advetisers went to the platforms, because it was quicker & easier than negotiatig with millions of websites individually, so they had to use the exchanges or not use advertising at all.

          But the levels of income have dropped off dramatically. I know of several sites and networks I regularly visit/listen to that are suffering. The revenue per ad had fallen off a cliff and either they have to up the ad to content ratio to the level where you can't see/enjoy the content, or they have to find altenative sources of income - I subscribe to several sites I visit regularly, for example.

          One stated last week, that the ads pay for the servers and bandwidth of the free users, but that's it. His salary comes out of the subscriptions, but subscribers get an ad-free experience, so part of the subscribtion also covers their bandwidth costs... They make enough to live on, but they'll never be rich.

          1. AVee

            Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

            I don't think it's surprising revenue per ad dropped. The total advertising budget gets spread over way more than just news websites these days. With huge amounts spend on ads on Facebook, in games and videos etc there's just more parties amongst which the money has to be shared.

            That doesn't mean everything google does is fair, but it also isn't all their fault.

          2. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

            "The problem is, they didn't outsource the advertising voluntarily, it was outsourced away from them. Advetisers went to the platforms, because it was quicker & easier than negotiatig with millions of websites individually, so they had to use the exchanges Google's exchange or not use advertising at all."

            That right there (slightly edited) is the core of the argument. Advertisers used to spend a mint before and they still do now. Even before the internet there were ad agencies, exactly because both advertisers and publishers want to have to deal with as few people as possible. Except there were a few agencies to deal with so they could get a fair market deal.

            The real issue is Google's monopoly not just at one place but in 3 different chokepoints - through search they control the customer eyeballs, through doubleclick they control the ads, and through the auction mechanism (which IIRC they were shown to have rigged), they control exactly who sees what and who gets paid for what.

            I would guess that ad agencies, like any of that sort of agent or intermediary, would have taken a cut of 10-20%. With adsense, Google takes a cut of 32-49% (that's straight from the horse's mouth, see link below).

            https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/180195?hl=en

            That's not even coming to the other elephant in the advertising room , which is that the only entity that knows what and how many ads are being served through what pages and to which users is Google, and advertisers just have to trust that the ad analytics are showing real numbers of ad impressions and clicks.

        2. stiine Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

          Use robots.txt you stupid bastards. If you don't want google search displaying your content, simply tell them not to. Its not that hard.

          1. captain veg Silver badge

            Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

            Point missed.

            Wanting your content to be discoverable is not the same thing as wanting it to be published by another party and they get all the remumeration.

            -A.

      3. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        Yes, that is what *actually* happened, well done, we all know that.

        Did you miss the bit where they *expected* a windfall and they suing because *that* didn't happen? The quote doesn't say "we just wanted a fair return for all our hard work".

        1. Little Mouse

          Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

          I'm not sure which it is, but I think they're either saying that a windfall *did* happen, and that Google didn't pass on a fair share of that. Or that Google prevented a potential windfall from happening through incompetence.

          Either way - It all boils down to their contract with Google, so should be an open and shut case. Did Google meet the terms of the agreement or not?

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

            They are just saying *they* wanted a windfall and didn't get it.

            There is nothing there to support any idea that Google got a windfall and failed to pass it on: Google just did what everyone expected Google to do.

            Google have pretty much had a monopoly on online advertising for a long time now, there are no surprises there for anyone who did their due diligence.

      4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        "They're expecting to get something for the work they did writing and publishing."

        Well then maybe they should charge the readers...? Paywalls are a thing these days.

      5. FlamingDeath Silver badge

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        Its a bit like reaction videos on YouTube

        Stealing others content

        There seems to be an invasion of talentless people in the world currently

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

          "There seems to be an invasion of talentless people in the world currently"

          Nah. Those talentless folks have always been there. It's just that TehIntraWebTubes allow them to make themselves known to all and sundry, instead of merely annoying the poor friends and family whop are in close proximity.

      6. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

        The content in their newspapers tends to be a bit lightweight.

        1. jake Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Feel the sympathy melt away

          Understatement of the Week.

          Have a beer.

  4. prh99

    Pi Hole or UBlock Origin, problem solved.

    1. prh99

      I would just add blocking ads isn't only removing the annoyance, they are a vectors for scams and malware. No one wants to vet them cause that would eat into profit in their automated market.

      1. schultzter
        Facepalm

        > they are a vectors for scams and malware

        I think the FBI said it first!

      2. FlamingDeath Silver badge

        Microsoft, through their forms platform, were hosting phishing pages to O365

        These cunts can just go and fucking die for all I care

  5. localzuk Silver badge

    Not sure about this one

    Whilst I agree that Google are too much of a monopoly, and need to be broken up, I am not sure I agree with the case here.

    "Despite the opportunity for publishers to produce more news content and earn more revenue, news publications' advertising revenue has declined by nearly 70 percent over the same timeframe," Gannett complained in the lawsuit."

    This seems to ignore that there is FAR more choice of where to actually get content today. So, why would revenue from online ads be higher than print ads when people can go elsewhere. Not to mention the proliferation of ad blockers?

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Not sure about this one

      Yeah, on-line potentially means "better targetting" so advertisers can spend less for the same effect. What is it alleged John Wanamaker said? “I am convinced that about one-half the money I spend for advertising is wasted, but I have never been able to decide which half.” Well advertisers are a lot closer to knowing which half. (And they're still wasting loads...)

      I presume "70 percent decline" means for every $100 they now get $30. Well, however much Google are gouging (and I'm sure they are gouging) I can't believe they are taking in $100 and only handing over $30 to publishers; effectively keeping 2x the publishers' revenue for themselves. I'm sure publishers would earn more if Google didn't have a stranglehold on the market. But it's not going to make up for the decline.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Not sure about this one

      Yes, this is where you want both sides to lose.

      That said, we are talking about writers trying to make a living here, as well. Gannet itself doesn't really get my sympathy.

      But I've heard from some tech website owners and they are saying that the ad revenues cover the server and bandwidth costs of the free users, but it is the subscribers that are paying them a living wage - they can afford to keep writing tech articles, but they will never get rich doing it.

      The only other option is to increase the number of ad impressions per page, that the reader can't actually read the content, because you get an ad every couple of lines.

  6. IGotOut Silver badge

    Wow....

    If only the regulators saw the f'ing obvious issue all those years ago, one pointed out on here by many readerz, including myself in the ye distant past.

    Nope they were to stupid to realise that allowing the world's largest advertising company buy one of it main rivals would create problems.

    Yup, we are old enough to remember the DoubleClick buyout should never have been allowed to happen.

  7. nijam Silver badge

    Sorry, just another old media firm spewing bile at a competitor that out-performed them. History of the internet in nutshell.

    1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Businesses pissing vinegar for being failures

      Music to my ears, we need fewer of these cretinous businesses.

      Adverts, just fuck off

  8. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    If you work in advertising

    “KYS” - Bill Hicks

  9. schultzter

    Rant, eh!

    The obvious problem with Canada's link tax law, Bill C-18, is that it's thinly veiled copyright reform! But bragging about copyright reform, especially two elections in a row, doesn't grab the headlines like a David vs Goliath story of defending Canadian values against tech mega corps! So we end up with a convoluted law that will fail judicial challenge, was already obsolete before it was passed, and does nothing to actually help news publishers. Sure it helps shareholders of the major incumbent publishers and gives the politicians something to puff their chests up with but that's about it.

    What they should do is

    a. Collect corporate taxes from Google, et al like they should and use that money too fund journalism, cancon, etc equitably; and

    b. Change copyright law so fair use is a bit more nuanced and Google, FB, etc can't hide behind it

  10. Reginald O.

    Be Careful Monolithic Mega-Corps...

    You might annoy Google enough they will just say "F* It" and buy the entire US govt to be done with you.

    Could this be a headline soon?

    "US Dept of Google tells Gannet to F* Off!"

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Be Careful Monolithic Mega-Corps...

      Alphabet's (on paper) worth isn't even close to being able to purchase the US, not by a couple orders of magnitude.

      They are right in the ballpark to manage a leveraged takeover of the UK, though ...

  11. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Joke

    I want the one without the Gannett

    They wet their nests.

  12. tiggity Silver badge

    Being from the UK I cannot comment on USA Today and how it behaves in ad delivery for a US viewer, but visiting it from UK I was pleasantly surprised that it was essentially ad free compared to some UK "news" sites (I'm thinking "Reach" sites especially), and it had a reasonable % of "proper news" .. as a UK visitor I get eu.usatoday.com though

    So I was happy with it compared to Reach UK* sites which are

    a) So full of ads as to be virtually unusable

    b) When you do use ad control tools to make the web page actually possible to view and navigate, you then see a large % of content is clickbait rather than proper news.

    So maybe the nice user friendly essentially no ads site means they get less ad revenue (but on the plus side a user such as myself would not need to deploy ad blockers - though its no defence against people who have everything blocked by default**)

    * some UK sites are low / no ads for UK users (e.g. Guardian, BBC) but many are ad hell.

    ** I block "new / unknown" sites by default, but then if site content seems like it may be worth a revisit I then start "loosening" restrictions, if the site is not too intrusive I add it to the various "whitelists" but if its an awful experience then its back to heavy duty blocking and site added to "blacklists"

    Apols for naughty words according to https://www.theregister.com/2023/06/22/inclusive_naming_initiative_word_list/

    Its Friday afternoon & CBA to look up whatever the recommended alternatives are***

    *** & likely to remain that way, I have looked up the alternatives in the past to various offensive tech words & then promptly forgot them about an hour later. Will have to integrate them into spell check suggestions as workaround for only long term remembering stuff I am interested in & near instantly forgetting other stuff..

    .

  13. PRR Silver badge

    This is at least a decade too late.

    And a case of the pot calling the kettle a vessel of color.

    I remember when Gannet came in. After a slow start they ate-out the heart (and income) of hundreds of good local newspapers. In part by selling ads cheaper (per impression). Now, *finally*, they gather the gall to gripe about Google doing the same to Gannet? If this was a copyright case it would be thrown-out for neglect.

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