Rupert Murdoch's Google taunts are a bid to unite publishers - content will be king

It looks like Rupert Murdoch is positioning himself as the saviour of the newspaper industry. He might very well succeed...
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Why has Rupert Murdoch and others at News Corp. spent so much time criticizing Google when there is a simple solution: post a robot.txt file that tells Google and others not to search and index their content?

Because criticizing Google results in a lot more publicity. Because Mr Murdoch has an agenda, he is most probably laying the groundwork to negotiate a deal with Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others, where they will pay to index News Corp content and also content from other publishers allied with News Corp.

Take a look at these points:

- By collecting a package of other publishers, Mr Murdoch can avoid the problem caused by what I call "first mover disadvantage" in that the first publishers with paywalls, risk losing audience to rivals that wait to build their paywalls. That's a much larger business risk than the traffic lost from blocking Google. That's a risk all news publishers face not just News Corp. Better to be in a collective.

- Mr Murdoch is emerging as a champion for other news publishers in his criticism of Google. That's an excellent opportunity to become the rallying point for the newspaper industry as a whole and to recruit publishers into a common basket of content.

- Mr Murdoch and his top executives are masters at using the media to manipulate others to get what they want -- in this case Google is the target.

- Why would competitors join with Mr Murdoch? A better question is why wouldn't they? They would all still compete on writing the news first, that wouldn't change in either scenario. The advantage would be better revenues from subscriptions using a collective approach. Mr Murdoch and his allies could offer packages consisting of local, regional, national and even foreign publications for one monthly fee. No need for micropayments by readers -- the payments could be divided up within the group transparently, the readers pay one fee.

- Would readers pay for content? They already do. Revenue from subscribers has already overtaken revenue from advertising at many publications. In its most recent financial quarter the New York Times said revenues from readers overtook advertising revenues for the first time -- a watershed moment. That's a trend that still has a ways to go and will be helped by new ways to collect subscriptions for online content.

- Would GOOG et al, pay for access to index content? Yes, GOOG already pays for content from the AP and for TV shows to show on YouTube.

- Google would pay because search engines need novelty. They need to index new content. Otherwise why do people use a search engine? To find what they already know is there, or to look for new content? It's mostly the latter.

- If users know that a search engine is blocked from new content then that is a very negative psychological strike against it -- what else doesn't it have? Google, and others need to maintain an impression that they "index all the world's content." Index is their prime goal, rather than to serve up free content.

Josh Cohen at Google News made this very point "there is still a lot of those discussions that take place where people will say ... 'I have to make this content free or Google won't index it,' and that's not the case."

- Google is open to working with publishers in a variety of ways. Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand interviewed Josh Cohen at Google News. He said that Google already has a large number of different programs to offer publishers and will work on custom programs too.

Here are a couple more quotes from Google's Josh Cohen:

"We want to be in a situation where the best content wins, not the best SEOed site."

"You can allow us to crawl content and show a preview to the user and label it as a subscription."

Mr Murdoch and his allies will be able to have their cake and eat it in the sense that they can have Google index their content, and also have a paywall.

Plus, they have many business levers to pull in that they can continue to make some content free; to place less content behind a paywall; and to optimize their landing pages for Google and other traffic to make for better ad conversions (as Jonathan Mendez points out in SVW comments).

And potentially get a payment from Google and other search engines in addition to everything else.

This will be one of the ways the media industry halts the decline in its fortunes. Overall, the media industry will need to adopt what I call a "Heinz 57" business model, with multiple revenue streams, there won't be just one or two magic bullets.

The challenge for publishers will be in managing multiple sources of revenue. But that's an opportunity for startups to offer the admin tools, and help aggregate the revenues streams for large publishers.

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Please see:

The Dirty Little Secret About Search Engine Traffic...

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