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Google Plays Nice With European Publishers, Dumps $163 Million Into Innovation Fund

On Tuesday, Google will launch a fund and initiative to support digital journalism with eight European publishers.

Shutterstock / Gil C

After being thwacked so many times in Europe, Google is taking a new tack: Extend an olive branch to the fourth estate.

In London on Tuesday, the Internet giant will launch the Digital News Initiative, a program to support and fund online journalism, in collaboration with eight European publications, including the Guardian and the Financial Times. The bedfellows will form a product working group designed, per a press release, to explore ways to “increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement.” Google is also planning to contribute (unspecified) digital resources for newsrooms, lending “dedicated staff” to team with publications in London, Hamburg and Paris.

And it’s giving cash: The initiative comes with a $163 million fund for publishers, spread over three years, as well as additional support for online journalism from Reuters, academia and Google’s own fellowship program.

Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, Google’s president of strategic relationships in Europe, will announce the new project. “This is just the beginning and we invite others to join us,” he said in a release.

It’s a timely endeavor. On top of the protracted privacy battles on the continent, Google has faced the threat of licensing fees for its news publishing in France and Spain. And there are those antitrust cases from two weeks ago.

Google is likely to insist that the timing has nothing to do with other developments. The project sprang from a publishing conference last November co-hosted by the Knight Foundation, a source close to Google said. If anything, Google’s move may be less about appeasing European regulators than courting publishers. Expect the new initiative to steer publishers to improved content on mobile, a priority for Google. While the search king still drives eyeballs to Web publishers, its power has waned. And its chief referral rival, Facebook, has been courting publishers very aggressively.

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