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German heavyweight publisher Axel Springer concedes defeat to Google: Here's why

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Germany's biggest news publisher Axel Springer is backtracking from its decision to make Google remove snippets of its news stories on Google News, citing massive traffic losses as the reason it wants the snippets back up.

This is the latest development in a long-standing battle between the search company and German publishers, who succeeded in 2013 to push for the passage of a bill that requires Google to pay for the rights to publish content from German websites that are not links or headlines.

Not wanting to risk getting sued in the German courts, Google complied and removed the thumbnails and snippets to all stories published by German publishers who asked to have them removed. Other publishers, however, have agreed to let Google publish their snippets on Google News free of charge.

Axel Springer, publisher of Europe's biggest daily newspaper Bild and whose online brands include Autobild.de, Computerbild.de, Sportbild.de and Welt.de, led around 200 publishers in a move that asked Google to remove all its content save its headlines and links from Google News.

Now, just two weeks after Google complied, Axel Springer says it has realized its mistake.

Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner tells Reuters that the publisher would have "shot ourselves out of the market" if it continued to stop Google from publishing its snippets. After analyzing its traffic numbers, the publisher says traffic coming from Google Search fell by 40 percent while clicks coming in from Google News took an 80 percent nosedive.

"As sad as it is, at least now we know precisely how enormous the consequences of discriminating are, how Google's market power really plays out, and how Google punishes those who exercise the right to protect content," says Döpfner in a news conference.

Along with its announcement, Axel Springer also came out with its third-quarter financial report, which posted a continuously slowing growth due mostly to the decline of print news publications.

Google, for its part, says it is "pleased" with Axel Springer's decision and that it has always been supportive of publishers, saying that it sends more than 500 million visitors to German publishers every month and has made $1.25 billion in advertising revenue for them in the last three years.

"[Axel Springer's] decision shows that Google is making a significant contribution to the economic success of news publishers," says a Google spokesperson. "Google wants to work in the future with publishers on new models to promote their websites and apps to increase traffic and to support digital publishing."

Google is currently the subject of an ongoing antitrust probe in Europe, where it accounts for 80 percent of the market in the entire continent and 90 percent in Germany. The search company is also no stranger to copyright claims from European publishers.

In France, for instance, Google has agreed to a $75 million settlement with French publishers, with the money directed towards an investment fund that will help publishers build a strong online presence. Google made a similar settlement with Belgium.

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