Now media companies appear to have decided that -- while search may be mutually beneficial in a narrow sense -- Google is getting so much more of the benefit that it doesn't make sense for them to hold up their part of the compact. They may further reason that, in some cases, Google has actually eaten up ad dollars that in the past would have gone to these media companies themselves: in other words, the compact is not only not helping them, but actually hurting them. They want some of these advertising revenues redistributed.
To be clear, while the media in these four countries have the same demand, they are using different tactics to get Google to capitulate. The ANJ jump-out was a business decision made by a trade group after negotiations that did not involve the government. In France, Germany, and Italy, meanwhile, media companies have asked the countries' governments to intervene in various ways, both as a party to negotiations and with the passage of laws. (For a take on how the dispute is shaking out in each country, see this thorough article in the New York Times.) Moreover, the measures would impact any search engine provider that uses snippets of content underneath headlines. So it is a bit misleading to call all of the measures "Google taxes" -- although, effectively, and from Google's perspective, that is exactly what they are.
If Western European news sites also start jumping out of Google News, it raises questions not just about the viability of the Google News model for aggregating content but possibly, just maybe, about the viability of search as we now know it. Why? Many of the media companies that provide content to the main Google search engine -- not just the ones whose content also goes to Google News -- could conceivably have a stake in getting paid for their links. What would happen, say, if the New York Times wanted Google (or Google-owned company YouTube) to pay for links?
The key is cooperation among the companies that produce content. If major content providers were ever to coordinate a jump-out of the search engine, that would radically reduce its utility, and may indeed force it to start paying-to-link. Which in turn wrecks the business model.
A multi-country opt-out extreme enough to force Google's hand is far in the future. Still, the fight over Google News raises the possibility, and Google sounds worried. As Tech Crunch noted in its article on Google's recent overseas problems (also linked above):
When France recently made a similar complaint [referring to an earlier attempt to get Google to pay for content], Google responded that it sends over 4 billion clicks to French sites each month. Laws that curtail the search engine's ability to crawl or display content, 'would threaten its very existence,' argues Google. Indeed, Chairman Eric Schmidt is headed over to France right now on a (please, please don't divorce us) goodwill mission to smooth things out.
That last bit refers to this week's meeting with Hollande, who told Google that the search engine must compromise with French publishers or face legislation requiring it to pay for content. Google says it will stop carrying links to French news sites rather than pay fees, as it has in Brazil, but it's easy to see how that strategy could backfire on the company if it's forced to repeat it in country after country.
In other words, if the media can just hold it together to cooperate against the search giant, they may be able to score serious, Google-damaging concessions. This sort of group action may be the future of media industry attempts to establish secure footing in an era of changing technologies. (For further evidence, see the coming Penguin-Random House consolidation reported earlier this week.)