The rumors are true. Rupert Murdoch is taking News Corp. content out of Google search.
The media mogul set off a storm last week when he responded to a question about opting-out from Google with the words "I think we will."
And today, News Corp.'s chief digital officer confirmed it. News Corp. content will be off of Google search within the next few months.
But is this a game of chicken that News Corp. can win?
According to The Telegraph, Jonathan Miller told the Monaco Media Forum on Friday that News Corp. doesn't need Google:
“The traffic which comes in from Google brings a consumer who more often than not read one article and then leaves the site. That is the least valuable of traffic to us… the economic impact [of not having content indexed by Google] is not as great as you might think. You can survive without it.”
That's not what Google says. The Telegraph quotes a Google spokesperson earlier this week:
“Google News and web search are a tremendous source of promotion for news organisations, sending them about 100,000 clicks every minute."
Specifically for The Wall Street Journal, Google plays a big role. According to Hitwise, Google and Google news are the top traffic providers for WSJ.com, accounting for over 25% of WSJ.com's traffic.
Miller is right that many of thosee readers are new users. Hitwise estimates that 44% of WSJ.com visitors coming from Google are "new" users who haven't visited the domain in the last 30 days.
But over half are not. And News Corp. could potentially choke off subscribers and potential subscribers with this plan. When they stop seeing Journal search results, readers might stop seeing the benefit of paying for access.
News Corp. is hoping that other news outlets will come together on this plan. That is evident by how long it's taking. Removing items from Google search is not the kind of thing that takes months. It's a simple code formatting issue. But News Corp. needs other media companies to sign on, or a deal with another search engine, to ensure the plan works. Miller continued:
“We will lead. There is a pent up need for this. There has to be a resolution for the free versus pay debate otherwise we cannot afford to pay for things like news bureaus in Kabul.”
If media outlets banded together with another search engine like Bing, they could potential give users access without Google.
But that is a bet that they could easily lose. Things may have gotten dire enough at enough media companies that they can band together to avoid Google. And despite its various strengths, Google would be a less efficient search engine if it didn't return the most thorough news headlines.
A lot of factors have to fall in line for that to work, though. For starters, blogs and other news gathering services aren't likely to go off Google any time soon. And readers may not go searching for the original source of content if they get close enough through Google, meaning that this plan could leave media companies even worse off than they are now.
As much as publishers hate Google, cutting off search results could do more harm than good.
Image: AP/Mark J. Terrill