Maybe Rupert Murdoch isn't so crazy after all. Little more than two weeks after he essentially stated "Google? We don't need no stinkin' Google", reports have surfaced that Microsoft is talking with News Corp. and other newspaper publishers.
The proposition Microsoft is reportedly floating: "delist" from Google and give Bing exclusivity when it comes to indexing your content. In exchange, Microsoft would pay the publishers the cold hard cash they're so desperately seeking as print revenues continue their rapid erosion.
Microsoft's proposition could open a new front in the company's battle against Google's dominance. While the Redmond software giant seems to have finally managed to build a decent search engine with Bing, the numbers indicate that Bing is taking market share from Yahoo, not Google.
Clearly, Microsoft thinks that the exclusive right to index content from news websites like WSJ.com might be another way to attack Google. And for the publishers entertaining Microsoft's possible proposition, delisting from Google and going exclusive is clearly seen as a quick source of revenue, much-needed in some cases.
But is this really a good idea? Perhaps not. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan has explained in some detail why this is all so problematic. In the end he makes two key points that I think are worth noting:
Ideally, what the AP or Murdoch want is an OPEC for news. They want to control the flow of news through the pipelines they think their news cartels control.
Also remember that just as Bing can do deals, so can Google. If Murdoch’s publications go bye-bye, Google might do a deal with competitors, say the New York Times.
I agree on both points.
Frankly, organizations like the AP and News Corp. do want an OPEC for news. Earlier this year, I suggested that a paid content cartel could be very effective -- "if organized effectively". But that's easier said than done, especially when some publishers seem incapable of even settling on the details of their own paywalls.
So if a paid content cartel doesn't look viable (at least for the time being), getting paid for exclusive indexing rights will likely interest a lot of publishers. But what if publishers learn that opting out of Google hurts, rather than helps? They'll be no closer to solving their biggest problems, which really have less to do with Google than most newspaper execs might think. Most unfortunately, perhaps, they'll have set a bad precedent by turning content that can already be blocked from indexing using robots.txt into a cheap bargaining tool. While I doubt that these exclusive indexing deals will flood the web (the search engines are unlikely to realize enough benefits from these deals to justify larger investment), it will have opened a can of worms that probably shouldn't be opened.
Given all this, Microsoft's money isn't going to 'save' the newspaper industry. If anything, it will probably hurt it. But it might set Rupert Murdoch up for a short term windfall. He has some experience with those and if you're Steve Ballmer, you might want to ask Google about this.
Photo credit: Nick, Programmerman via Flickr.