A lot of publishers have been making angry noises recently about news aggregators, which have been profiting from content they played no part in creating while the content producers themselves go begging. But no publisher has yet shown the slightest willingness to take the incredibly simple step that would disrupt this state of affairs: block Google (GOOG) from indexing its stories.
Of course it would be Rupert Murdoch, that pugnacious iconoclast, vowing to lead the charge. In a recent interview with his own Sky News Australia, the News Corp. (NWS) chairman said his company's news sites will most likely make their stories invisible to Google once they've adopted a pay-to-read model, something he has promised is coming. Murdoch says he's willing to sacrifice the millions of clicks his websites get from Google News and Web searches if it will help persuade readers to subscribe to WSJ.com, nypost.com and foxnews.com, to name a few.
But don't reach for that credit card just yet. Shaking your metaphorical fist at Google is one thing; carrying out your threat is another, and if Murdoch makes good on this one, I will put on this dress and head over to News Corp. headquarters to pay my respects in person.
There's a reason no other publisher has tried blocking Google yet: It would be colossally stupid, and not just because of the massive traffic declines and resulting lost ad revenue. It would also affect the profile of News Corp.'s brands and its ability to acquire and retain top talent. Journalists care about have their work read, discussed and linked to, and hate anything that interferes with that. Look at what happened at Newsday, where longtime columnist Saul Friedman quit after the paper put its website behind a $5-a-week pay wall. If The Wall Street Journal and the Times of London go to stealth mode, you can be sure the best reporters and columnists will abandon them in a heartbeat for outlets with more visibility.
But it won't come to that. Murdoch loves to shoot from the hip, but he never lets a little grandiose posturing keep him from doing what's in his best interest ultimately. After he bought the Journal, Murdoch let it be known he wanted to abandon the website's pay model, only to reverse course after running the numbers. He poured millions into getting the Post to overtake the Daily News in the circulation race, then quietly settled back into second place when the losses piled up. Most recently, he pledged to have all News Corp. news websites charging for content by mid-2010, then admitted that goal is unattainable.
It's hard to say whether Murdoch's latest pronouncement is a negotiation tactic aimed at scaring Google and other aggregators into sharing some of their ad revenue, or whether he's really so angry at the "parasites" he's prepared to drink poison just to hurt them. But it doesn't matter. Either way, Murdoch isn't going to shut the door on Google.
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