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 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.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 November, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)


David Phillips

The answer to the headline is, I guess, who cares!

What is so important that we should care about traditional publishing that much. Today there are alternatives to institutionalised publishing.

It may mean there there is a need for a new legal framework for publishing but not for the present publishing industry.

This is not something that politicians can talk about before an election but the day after it needs to be enacted.

The protection given to Rupert Murdoch and his fellow publishers by governments is well beyond anything that other industries can get. So perhaps the publishing revolution should be the same for publisher and blogger.

Hot metal access could be made equitably available to cool social media writers. There are many privileges like access to courts, government and political institutions, private briefing and so forth. This is some revolution. The tax breaks and other privileges could be made equitable too.

If traditional publishers' copyright is so valuable, one wonder to what extent it is original - and if not, can it be taxed (sorry - put behind a paywall)? 

Today we do have semantic capabilities to identify the origins of content. 

What we find s that very little content published in newspapers is 'original' and scant attention to attribution is made by journals. I just can't remember the last time I saw a journalist attribute original content to a PR Agency, twitter and only seldom, these days, to a blogger - strange that!

Taking the mote out of the publisher's eye will have to be a done with legal sanction and that is a tough ask of any politician.

over 8 years ago


Supra TK Society

Cool website, like what I have read. Will definitely be back to read again.

over 8 years ago


Greg Pipe

When David says, "who cares" I think this is a little hard. Traditional print media still plays an incredibly large role in helping to shape and define public opinion. It still provides a voice to people who often wouldn't be heard.

I think we need to separate 'tabloid' journalism from more reputable concerns. A recent report shows how 15-24 year olds do not turn immediately to the more traditional media outlets for their news, instead they research using online means. However, for the majority of people traditional media does still play an important role.

So, although Murdock et al might indeed want to control the supply of news I think this is more a business decision to secure long-term revenues than anything else. With a generation of consumers growing up using the net instead of traditional print I think long term their control of news will dwindle.
What does anyone else think?

over 8 years ago


Simon Heath

We can shrug it off and say who cares but there is a worrying aspect to this: if other publishers follow suit it will affect the credibility of search. Google has done a pretty good job of basing natural search on merit rather than cold hard cash. Microsoft potentially offering to give priority to the likes of Murdoch would skew results entirely. 

It's a short term strategy to have a go at Google (Microsoft) and save face by getting at least someone to pay for content (Murdoch). Long term both look set to lose - Bing will be mistrusted and News Corp will lose significant traffic and allow the competition to step in their place.

So we could say - it'll all turn out ok in the end but it could well signal a period of upheaval, lack of trust and uncertainty for end users and those of us in the digital, social media, content and search sectors as a result. All at the hands of a couple of rampant dinosaurs!

I wrote a wider analysis of this yesterday

over 8 years ago


David Phillips

Simon, I like your analysis and, perhaps I am being a little hard.

But there is a reason for this harsh tone. Very little 'news' in newspapers is first seen in newspapers (Radio, TV etc). In fact most public events are either pushed real time or are indexed by Google a few seconds later. It then takes some time for the traditional media to verify and publish (unless they do it using Twitter - which is a current fashion).

This would suggest that the worry for News Corp is not really Google News or scraping but the algorithm that can spot 'news' and spread it in context ahead of the traditional media.

Today there are a lot of semantic and Bayesian based engines about that are the tools that allow us to develop 'citizen news' bots and which will become both valuable and a long term threat to the traditional news industry.

But news is only part of the content of the Times and the Sun. Some of this content is provided under PRWall contracts between the media relations practitioners and their clients. There are the DataWall contracts between information providers and the media such as City feeds.

Simon is right, a lot of upheaval but with every scenario, Murdock looses and he takes the other publishers with him.

Its quite fascinating.

over 8 years ago

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