Thoughts On A “Killer” Bing-News Corp Deal & The Myth Of An “OPEC For News”

It’s back, the prospect that Microsoft might try to make Rupert Murdoch happy by offering a “get listed with Bing” exclusive deal. Later, I’ll revisit the topic in a coordinated fashion. But for now, I’ve collected a number of thoughts I’ve put out on Twitter, in blog comments and elsewhere.

First, I’ll point readers back to my post from earlier this month, Why An Exclusive Wall Street Journal (or News Corp) Deal Wouldn’t Help Bing.

I still suspect that News Corp’s most valuable news content of all its properties remains the Wall Street Journal. So what happens if the WSJ is out of Google? Nothing.

Seriously, nothing. Remember, for years the WSJ was NOT in Google, and yet Google grew just fine. Also, the WSJ seems to have been fine. Neither is crucial to each other.

What if all of News Corp goes? Well, what are we talking about? Shows like American Idol? I see a boon for unofficial sites with news about American Idol, if that happens. Just News Corp news organizations? I’ll quote from my recent interview with Josh Cohen from Google News, on that possibility of many papers pulling out of Google:

You have a number of different sources out there that are non-newspapers who are probably just ecstatic at the prospect of a lot of paywalls going up in a lot of different categories.

You know, pick a category. CNN, general interest news, for example, I’ve got to think, and I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I’ve got no insight into CNN’s thought process and maybe I’m wrong, but they probably get a ton of traffic and do a fairly healthy business on the online side of things.

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. As far as they’re concerned, they (and only they) have tapped into news reservoirs that exist.

In reality, news is going to get out. Even if the cartel were solid and managed to all block Google (or another search engine), the news itself still flows.

That’s why you also hear noise from place like the AP that somehow, a damn needs to be built around those damn bloggers that are seen as hijacking the news shipments. As I explained in that same interview:

The other solution that gets floated out there, a sense that there needs to be either an improved “hot news” law or tighter restrictions on fair use, so that people cannot so easily summarize stories (such as when a blogger does highlights of a news story or when a mainstream news source summarizes a story from another mainstream publication).

Notice I mentioned how mainstream news publications also quote each other. Case in point, how the The Journal Inquirer in Connecticut has sued the Hartford Courant of plagiarism.

Another case in point? Let’s get close to home. The Financial Times broke the latest news on a Bing-Murdoch deal (TechCrunch had a similar report a week ago). Let’s say that the Financial Times was being like Murdoch, blocking its story from Google. Well…

1) I first saw the Financial Times story in a tweet from Business Insider, which wrote a summary of that story. Google (or Bing) wasn’t essential to me personally discovering this news, nor did I have to go to the Financial Times to understand essentials of the story.

2) I also saw Mathew Ingram tweet the same story, but when I tried to read it, the Financial Times declared I’d seen two stories already this month and couldn’t see more without registering.

3) Rather than register (I probably have an account, but being on my phone, I couldn’t be hassled to look it up), I searched on Google. There, I found the EXACT Financial Times article that is syndicated (almost certainly with the Financial Times’s permission) on CNN. So CNN wins my traffic on this day, not the FT.

4) But let’s say the FT somehow full locked down pesky news blogs like Business Insider and completely closed syndication. How else might I have learned about this scoop. Well, turns out the Wall Street Journal has coverage where it cites the Financial Times. Now, will Murdoch start complaining about how his publication is ripping off the FT, in the way he claims Google’s links to his own articles are somehow a ripoff (Google at least links to sources — the WSJ did NOT link to the FT?

Now to be clear, the WSJ said “according to people familiar with the matter” in the lead to its own story, which indicates that the reporters there saw the news in the FT, were actually extraordinarily nice in noting that the FT was out first with the news, but verified the same details with their own sources. So this really isn’t a ripoff case — but it IS an example of how the news that started with the FT hardly was locked down to it.

In other words, sure, there are news reservoirs. But anyone can tap into it — and competing publications (both mainstream media and news blogs), do so.

Meanwhile, Mark Cuban did a post on how smart a Bing-Murdoch deal would be. I left a comment over that dissected some of his assumption and why I don’t think they hold water:

Cuban: “They need the most popular searches in the categories they want to impact. Bing just has to corner the market on specific categories. “

Say like shopping? Because Bing’s been doing that for about a year now, offering people cold hard cash money if they do shopping search at Bing — Bing Cashback. In hard economic times, when people nonetheless still need to buy, you’d think this should be bringing people to Bing in droves. And the marketshare growth from that? Not significantly moving the needle.

So news? News content that they will still find at Google in other ways is going to drive folks to Bing? Not convinced.

Cuban: “Or they can target to pay sites about mesothelioma and other diseases that ambulance chasers covet and pay huge dollars per click through, or other high paying PPC searches.”

Corner the market on mesothelioma sites? How do they do this? They payoff the first 10 sites listed in Google and say drop out, give up all that really valuable traffic that you’re paying nothing for, and we’ll give you 10% of that traffic (at best) plus some hushmoney that might not rival what you get off lawsuits? And by the way, when you go, there will be another 200 sites that are probably equally good to you that will move up. Because we can’t buy them all off.

Cuban: “Then consider MicroSofts first move on twitter…”

First move of what, three hours? Which gained them a non-exclusive?

Cuban: “their investment in Facebook…”

Which over the past two years has done more and more to open itself, and its content, up to … Google. Because you know, the walled garden still finds itself needing external traffic.

Cuban: “Which makes the public positions of AP and Reuters and other top news sites all the more interesting. One thing they all have in common ? They dont like the way google has treated them and they all need money.”

The AP has a deal with Google. They liked how Google was treating them when they cut that deal, well enough. They don’t like Google now simply because, it seems, they want to negotiate more money now that the deal is up for renewal

As for Reuters, president Chris Ahearn said in August that he believes in the link economy. No threats at Google at all. Instead, he blamed news organizations with problems on “Incumbent business leaders in news haven’t been keeping up.”

If AP pulls out of Google, I suspect Ahearn will be happy to take the traffic. If the WSJ goes, I think the NY Times will be happy to take that traffic.

Cuban: “Many, like Henry Blodgett on Silicon Insider correctly make the point that news from de-listed sites will eventually find its way on to other sites and into the Google Index. But after how long ? Without question there will be a lag time. Which may be all that MicroSing needs. You can get ALL the news you need on Bing NOW, or you can wait for it on Google.”

Well, maybe a few minutes? If that. Right now, Google’s indexing seems to routinely beat Bing’s. So let’s say the WSJ goes out with a story, something exclusive, and totally only reported out the WSJ.

Bing might take 30 minutes to show that story. Meanwhile, some news blog sees the story about 1 minute after it appears. They blog it. Google picks them up 1 minute later after they ping Google. So now Google’s 28 minutes ahead.

But hey, Google’s got a Twitter deal too, right? So you see the WSJ article. You tweet it. It shows up in Google within seconds.

Also remember that most of the WSJ (and News Corp content overall, for that matter), is NOT unique content. So Bing has to get ALL the major news organizations to play — and face facts, some of them aren’t upset with Google and figure they can monetize the traffic.

Also remember that much of the traffic to news sites isn’t off the breaking news but off queries over time. If you’re searching for a particular topic, it may be a key article that is listed in “regular” Google that’s generating visits. Pull out of Google, there’s another article there to serve the audience with a non-time sensitive need.

Cuban: “Google already has a problem in that they do a horrible job of blocking spam in their date sorted results. Removing valid results is going to make their date sorted results look even worse”

Which is why in news search, date sorting isn’t the default. Relevancy sorting is. And personally, in news search, I haven’t seen this spam problem of which you speak. If you’re talking blog search, different story (and largely non-issue given the low usage there). And when I date sort news stories for “murdoch” in Bing and Google, both seem just fine to me.

Next, just a few ironies that I tweeted about all this:

irony. murdoch pulls news corp from google. people using The Sun search powered by google can’t find news corp content

irony. murdoch pulls news corp from google. people using The Sun search powered by google can’t find news corp content

See, several News Corp sites offer Google search on those sites. If Murdoch pulls his content from Google, then he pulls his sites out of the Google results on his own sites.

Of course, he could eventually cut similar deals with Bing. And maybe he’ll restrict the use of things like Google Maps by various Fox affiliates and try to block all things Google from being used by News Corp.

Of course, as I also tweeted:

be fun if google blocked all news corp IP addresses from searching for “free” on google when researching stories, too

As my Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories? post explains, Murdoch’s news organizations regularly tap into Google search to research stories, unless they are somehow NOT like practically everyone else who searches. I’ve talked with plenty of News Corp reporters (from The Times, from the Wall Street Journal, from Fox News) who I personally know have used Google to research.

Will Murdoch declare Google verboten? Or what will he do if Google decides to block his sites. I doubt they would, but they could.

The could get by with Bing, of course. Perhaps they’d get by just as well. But his rank-and-file reporters probably wouldn’t want to.

Meanwhile, let’s also remember that virtually all major newspapers in Belgium opted-out of Google a few years ago. They sued to get out, rather than just using a super easy voluntary system. That’s because, in my view, the lawsuit was more about hopes trying to force Google to the bargaining table to include the papers for a fee

Instead, Google conceded and dropped the papers. Down the line, the papers effectively came crawling back asking to be reincluded. Belgian Papers Back In Google; Begin Using Standards For Blocking has more. So is News Corp’s content more valuable to Google than that of an entire country? Maybe we’ll see.

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. Murdoch will be gambling that Bing will pay him enough money to make up for the lost traffic. The New York Times might be gambling that the extra traffic would help cement their place in a new future, especially as they can always do a paywall and still be listed in Google as well.

Maybe we’ll see, if this all plays out.

Lastly (for now, I may update other thoughts later), I think it’s a really poor move for Microsoft to be trying to strike exclusive deals like this. It’s one thing to license content. It’s another to apparently overtly suggest that a competitor be denied that content.

Microsoft has a bad anti-competitive reputation. It’s also in the middle of trying to convince regulators both in the US and Europe that it should be allowed to purchase Yahoo’s search technology and effectively end Yahoo’s role as a search provider, leaving the space to just Google and Microsoft.

So a deal to lockout Google? You can bet Google will use this to argue to anyone and everyone that Microsoft is back to “old tricks.”

As I said, I’ll try to revisit this in a more comprehensive, coherent manner in the near future. Also see these past posts that provide more background and perspective:

Be sure to also see Techmeme for related coverage.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Features: Analysis | Google: News | Microsoft: Bing News Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • alanbleiweiss


    Mark has since responded to your comments on his blog. In it, he offered some clarifications. Rather than rehashing them, and rather than offering more to the issue specific to the “news” aspects, which you’ve so successfully countered, I come from the perspective where he talks about mesothelioma, because that’s one industry I provide services to.

    Mark’s response to your take on that issue is that “You dont pay the lawyers. You pay the few actual for profit content sites. In this space there are just a few sites that have made the investment to create legit content.”

    Well, that’s never going to be enough to get enough people who actually have mesothelioma to start using Bing, let alone convert at the law sites. In all the years we’ve maintained our client’s PPC, we’ve never seen any significant volume, let alone conversion, come through ads on those sites. It’s almost all been through AdWords.

    In June, we shifted 20% of our clients budget to Bing. Saw some fair results. Increased the budget to match the Google AdWords budget. And guess what – we never hit even half our spend at Bing. And the increased clicks have been of a consistently lower quality, less conversion ratio than through Google. So we’re shutting down the larger Bing budget and will only leave a nominal spend there.

    I’ve seen similar issues on other client sites in different markets. Bings user base is good for some markets, but I think it would take too much heavy lifting for not enough results for them to even try and change that.

  • Red_Mud_Rookie

    Thanks for the post Danny. It actually had me chuckling out loud, as does the thought of Rupert fretting over a bigger bully in the room. This article ought to be read by all the Google and BBC bashers out there who are forever trying to pull a good thing down for being TOO GOOD.
    I’m not suggesting the BBC or Google are perfect and “not being evil”, but I think your article acts as a good reminder of just how nasty the likes of Microsoft and NewsCorp can be.
    I say bring it on. Let them cannibalize themselves so we can all get on with developing a better and more open network of information that anyone can access, not just those who can afford the subs!

  • Ciarán Norris

    If we take the WSJ out of this and look at your point regarding the fact that much news is far from unique, this other recent accouncement starts to take on even more significance:

    I wonder if any future Conservative governemt will force the BBC to drop SEO so as not to be ‘anti-competitive’? Or force them to stop offering web content outside the UK? I wouldn’t rule it out

  • Aaron Bradley

    Between the Josh Cohen quote and “OPEC for News” title I think you’ve really nailed the flaw in Murdoch-esque thinking – namely the fallacy that news can be thought of as an independently definable, and so controllable, commodity. In this context, what people search for on Google is topical information, and they’ll continue to do consume that information in the form of click-throughs even the absence of “news” services appearing in the SERPs.

    Cuban’s talk of cornering the market in “specific categories” borders on the absurd. Even if it were possible to magically separate “news” from “non-news,” categories in search only exist as semantic concepts. Cuban citing mesothelioma is of itself both ironic and telling: solve the problem of news monetization by providing information that will generate high advertising revenue. That doesn’t sound like a paywall to me – it sounds more like the epitome of an open information funding model.

  • semreportcard

    In 2005/06 I spoke to the executive leadership at Hearst, Tribune, Times, & Gannett regarding the benefits of optimizing news content for search (while at iCrossing). At the time, if you recall, most were publishing content for around two weeks to 30 days, then archiving the content, accessible only by subscription.

    It was my responsibility to explain the solution and build the case that search traffic, properly monetized, would generate more revenue than subscription-based archive access. The top executive at Tribune Interactive explained to me that archive subscription revenues didn’t “generate enough revenue to pay the lighting bill at their offices.”

    Eventually the paradigm changed within the leadership of major publishers and they began to eliminate archives and optimize content for search–this generates additional ad revenue from the traffic referred by search engines.

    Murdoch acts as if he fundamentally does not understand that search engines referring eyeballs to newspaper sites is a positive that increases ad revenue. I don’t buy it.

    This is nothing more than an opportunity to leverage Microsoft’s desperation to compete with Google for profit. There are ways he could benefit from Microsoft, Google, or both through structured agreements.

    The biggest blow to the newspaper industry was caused by a person named Craig Newmark.

    In reality very few publications are able to survive on a subscription-based model. There are just too many news sources that are willing to compete by providing free access (while generating ad revenue). The opportunity for most newspapers lies within their ability to monetize traffic.

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