After seven months of closed-door negotiations, Google France and a French media association announced the details of a 60 million euro ($81 million) fund earlier this month to spark legacy publishers’ transformation to digital, but it immediately became controversial, because the money will not be open to all media.
The Digital Innovation Press Fund (known in French as Fonds pour l’Innovation Numérique de la Presse), bankrolled by Google, is being managed by the company and a publisher trade group called the Association of Political and General Information. It will disburse grants to help AIPG-member outlets that publish news and general political information.
The fund will grant 20 million euros each year for the next three years to news media that have ideas for innovation in the digital age, especially in areas like revenue creation and daring storytelling. Winning companies may receive up to 60 percent of the total cost of a project. There are no obligations to use Google platforms.
“We want to fill in the gap between modernization and innovation,” says Ludovic Blecher, director of the fund. “The idea is to create space to try something new.”
Grants will be decided on the basis of a company’s seeming ability to execute its idea, the publisher’s current revenues, and its audience size. The fund does not specifically exclude startups but independent editors and bloggers are crying foul, because new online companies may not be able to meet all the benchmarks.
The criteria “results in the risk of distortions of competition in the news market,” said the Union of Independent Online Media said in a press statement.
Nathalie Collin, director general of the Nouvel Observateur Group and a board member of AIPG who acted as a lead negotiator for the fund, did not return calls or emails. Google France would not comment on the funds either and referred all calls to Blecher, who was hired only a week ago.
Blecher was executive director and editor in chief of Liberation before spending the past year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. Because he was away from France for the past year, Blecher said he did not know why the fund—a compromise between Google and the French government, which threatened copyright legislation when publishers expressed anger at Google profiting off its content in search results—was structured as it was.
However, any French news site that meets AIPG criteria can apply for membership, he says. Moreover, he called the fund a huge opportunity for legacy media and the small number of online news sites who are members of AIPG.
He uses The New York Time’s “Snow Fall” project as an example of the kind of innovation he would like to see in France.
The fund “is not a solution to save the media industry,” he says. “There is no magic solution for newspapers. We have to take risks.” The money, he adds, will help them take the risks.
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