Axel Springer backtracks over content on Google from its articles

Germany's biggest news publisher Axel Springer has backed off from blocking Google from running snippets of articles from its newspapers, saying that the experiment had caused a heavy fall in traffic to its site, Reuters reported.

According to the company, a two-week-old experiment to allow Google access to some of its publications had hit web traffic to these sites, leading it to scrap the move and allow Google once again showcase Springer news stories in its search results.

Chief executive Mathias Doepfner said yesterday that Axel Springer would have shot itself out of the market if it had continued with its demands for the US firm to pay licensing fees. The company had sought restriction on Google's use of news from four of its top-selling brands - welt.de, computerbild.de, sportbild.de and autobild.de, the company said.

Springer, publisher of Europe's top-selling daily newspaper Bild, said Google's grip over online audiences was too great to resist, a back-hand compliment aimed at also drawing attention to Google's monopoly powers.

Publishers in countries from Germany and France to Spain had pushed governments to pass national copyright laws forcing Google and other web aggregators to pay licensing fees – dubbed the Google Tax – when they published snippets of their news articles.

Under German law, Google is required to secure rights to publish any content other than links to articles and headlines, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Rather than pay for the rights, Google asked publishers to offer them free of charge or have their snippets and thumbnails removed from its services.  Even as some publishers agreed, Springer stuck to its demand for payment.

However traffic, measured by so-called click-through rates, had fallen sharply since late October when Google started displaying only limited content from the Springer sites after free access was barred by the group.

Search-engine traffic to the Springer sites fell around 40 per cent, even as traffic from Google's Google News page dropped 80 per cent.

Google said it was pleased that Springer had changed its position on the issue.

''It's great to have snippets for Springer's publications back in Google,'' the company said in an emailed statement.

According to a spokesman Springer was the only German publisher that had held out for payment, and stressed Google's role in promoting publishers' websites and boosting their readership and revenue.

''We send over 500 million clicks to German publishers each month and our advertising partnerships have generated more than €1 billion [$1.25 billion] in revenue for them in the last three years,'' the company said.