Would Someone Please Explain To News Corp How Google Works?

Yet another News Corporation executive is talking about Google, and yet again, I feel like they have no concept about how Google interacts with their web pages. Which is frightening, since they’re being very vocal about how they’re supposedly wronged by Google. Please, someone, give them a search marketing 101 course.

In the latest volley, News Corp’s president and COO Chase Carey tells Business Insider that being in Google is a “backdoor” that doesn’t “make sense” to offer if they’re trying to sell paid subscription.


Yes, you can use Google News as a way to get around the Wall Street Journal’s paywall. Through the First Click Free program that Google offers, anyone coming from Google has to be admitted to see the actual article. In fact, I’m a guilty party in telling people how to do this (see my Read The Wall Street Journal For Free post).

Here’s the thing. I’ve never, ever, heard anyone at the WSJ or News Corp before suggest that this is somehow a major problem, that this is a backdoor that’s being massively abused. To me, it’s similar to how there’s illegal music on the web. Sure there is, but for many people, it’s easier and cheaper just to buy a song legitimately. I suspect that many visiting the Wall Street Journal from Google News are:

  • Interested in a one time article, will never buy a subscription, so you’ve lost nothing but gained an ad view (which are still valuable)
  • Are not tying to “hack” an entire daily reading experience
  • A few decide to buy a subscription (hurray, you made money)
  • Some, like me, already have a subscription (and you’ve lost nothing)

Here’s the more important thing:


Sorry about all those caps and bolding, but after reading so much commentary earlier this week about News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch potentially taking his news content out of Google, I was amazed that this key point was being missed.

Publishers can have Google News index the entire text of their articles but NOT show the full story to visitors who come from Google (for Google’s web search, that’s not an option — but you can provide summary pages). They can also, if they choose, have only a small summary of their content indexed. These aren’t special hidden features that News Corp wouldn’t know about. Both are explained in Google’s public help files.

For example, here’s how it works for Newsday:

long island flooding - Google News

See that first story I’m pointing at, in response to a search for long island flooding? It’s from Newsday. But if I try to read the story:

High winds, minor flooding likely to hit LI

No luck. I have to subscribe. No First Click Free, no passing Go, you collect your $200.

By the way, to my understanding, News Corp’s Barron’s has done this in the past and may still do this, so News Corp really should be aware of the option. Also, Google is supposed to flag this type of content with a “subscription” label, but that’s not being done for Newsday, probably due to a glitch. I’m checking on that.

So if Carey doesn’t want a backdoor, he doesn’t have to have one. He can shut it himself. Moreover, he can shut it and yet not have to shut the door on Google entirely. That’s important for those like Mark Cuban who like Murdoch’s “We’d rather have fewer people coming to our web sites, but paying” view, as Cuban commented to me in a discussion on Mathew Ingram blog post about the value of visitors. Cuban said:

The prevailing wisdom seems to be if you build it and they come, why not let them in the door ? The answer is because they get there, but don’t really know or care where they are at. They went to google and got what they were looking for from some site google sent them to. I know the numbers i have seen from news sites show that retention of uniques earned through google searches is not high. They are visitors. They leave. There is no relationship developed.

IMHO, just as people ignore the banner ads on pages, they ignore the name of the company presenting the content. One is just above the other.

You are the search expert, but my business sense tells me that its better to focus on the people who are there to dance with me. Block google. See what the information tells me. See what happens. I dont think you lose anything, and you might just hit a home run.

Let’s assume most people from Google don’t convert. So what? Block First Click Free, and you still get traffic from Google. You provide no “backdoor” access; you lose nothing. You only talk about Google as a backdoor that harms you if:

  1. You don’t fully understand how Google indexes you
  2. You have a deliberate agenda to put out false information

You also don’t say things like how you don’t need or want traffic from Google to News Corp publications when you’ve got parts of your organization actually spending your cold hard cash to buy that exact traffic. Here’s an ad for the Wall Street Journal on Google for financial news:

WSJ Ad On Google

By the way, Carey didn’t just say that Google News readers should be cut-off from seeing free articles. He said he didn’t want people using any “channels” from getting there. So I guess that means the much discussed deal with Digg back in 2007 is on the chopping block, too. You know, the one that got a big splash because if someone submitted a story to Digg from the WSJ, then anyone could click from Digg and read that story?

Also, if the Journal really wants to be consistent, then you need to stop with the giveaway of ANYTHING on the site. As my Read The WSJ Free post also explains, the WSJ site itself has free content that it puts out for anyone independently of Google News. In fact, at Nieman Journalism Lab, WSJ executive editor Alan Murray explicitly described how the WSJ drops the paywall independently of Google, Digg or whatever — how you can start right at the WSJ site itself and get plenty of free stuff.

Rupert Murdoch added the Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones properties to News Corp over two years ago. I understand that it takes time to fully digest what he purchased.

I understand he and his executives might not realize all the various ways that they themselves might be inconsistently fueling the same news “promiscuity” that they’re pinning on Google (see Dear WSJ: To Avoid Google Disease, Please Put A Condom On Your Content).

I understand Murdoch and his executives may not still realize yet how News Corp does some of the same evil aggregation that it rants against (see A Look At All The Sites Owned By Rupert Murdoch That ‘Steal’ Content from TechDirt for more).

But still, it doesn’t make much sense. I don’t understand why he is attacking Google so hard when he has so much control over his own content. He can keep them entirely out. He can let them send visitors but not give anything away at all. So could any newspaper, right now, today. But his executives have positioned Google as a “vampire” that’s somehow caused all this disruption.

Pondering this more in my head on Tuesday, it occurred to me. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have a very good reputation in some news circles. That from the same article in the Wall Street Journal announcing his purchase of that publication, we had this:

Opponents of the deal called it a dark day for journalism. Leslie Hill, a family member who opposed the deal, resigned as a Dow Jones director late Tuesday afternoon. In a letter to the board, she conceded the deal was a good one in financial terms, but said it failed to outweigh “the loss of an independent global news organization with unmatched credibility and integrity.”

If you’re seen as a threat to quality journalism, as someone who oversees another part of your empire (Fox News) that the White House is trying to dismiss as a news organization, what better way to be seen as a journalism champion than to speak out as if you’re protecting all journalism from the evil of Google? Build Google up as the real threat to journalism. Suddenly, other media execs who viewed you as the “bad boy” of the journalism world are now looking at you with newfound respect (despite the fact that most of them are not “must carry” and won’t get any potential deal you might land).

Now THAT makes sense. Alternatively, it just makes sense that the News Corp execs simply don’t get how their businesses operate online, in respect to Google. Neither prospect is encouraging.

Postscript: The Daily Telegraph has remarks from Jonathan Miller, News Corp’s chief digital officer, saying that his company would block Google within “months and quarters — not weeks. He also wrote said News Corp could survive without the traffic and, in fact, that it didn’t have much value:

“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.”

As you’ll see in the comments below, I’m sure they and others can survive without it. But I suspect they could thrive with it. What’s amazing is that as shown above, News Corp spends money on ads at Google to attract the same audience from Google that they say isn’t as valuable. So we’re either getting PR spin or they’re doing a poor job of trying to convert those Google visitors.

With the ads, they can tell someone is after business news in general and send them to a very targeted landing page. With an click to a news story, someone’s intent IS different. They aren’t explicitly looking for site about business news, for example. But they clearly are interested in business news (or some type of news, as they’ve come). If they’re not converting, part of the issue is probably that the Wall Street Journal has done a poor job of trying to convert them. Rather than show them the same layout as you’d get when coming into the site, potentially they could have a much more simple display — with much more of a tailored pitch for getting more news.

Via Business Insider, there’s also a video of Miller’s remarks, though there are some weird audio issues with it:

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Features: Analysis | Google: News | 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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • mkoll

    Thanks for the public service. Excellent points.

  • http://www.sweetspotmarketing.com kevinpike

    If only someone who runs a search marketing expo would offer News Corp a free ticket to the next event!!

    Maybe someone would show up, get an education and then realize how a 25% drop in traffic might hurt.

  • http://www.riazkanani.com riazkanani

    disagree – now is the right time to be trying this; here’s why: http://bit.ly/info/2B2CSP

  • kskifstad

    Independent of whether or not the NewsCorp execs “get it” or not, isn’t the beauty of the internet that it’s _really_easy_ to do these large-scale experiments?

    Sure, we all have our opinions as to what would happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting (and probably invaluable) to see what actually happens if they do block Google?

  • David W

    Why is NewsCorp’s perspective and strategy so difficult for you to understand?

    Fine, maybe they don’t choose their words perfectly and aim those words at SEO geeks perfectly, but frankly they are not speaking to you. They are speaking to the masses (who don’t understand nor care to understand the nitty-gritty of how web-crawling works and the options within) and setting the stage for ending the “all content is free” era. And they want to ending this era with the masses thinking that they are the victim and they are just protecting their property fro thieves like Google&Co.

    Here is where they are coming from.

    Quality content is expensive to create. Hence, the creators of this content want to control it and get paid for it. And they want to control how they get paid for it. It’s their property and they should be allowed to do whatever they want with it. (Please skip the whole “fair use” discussion for now)

    Pre-digital, that was easy. Only their printing presses were allowed to print their content. Only their paying subscribers got their content. They knew exactly who their subscribers were; they could market these [high-income, high-value] subscribers to advertisers and advertisers paid handsomely for them.

    Then, in Internet land, almost all content creators got foolishly suckered into giving away their content for free. Aggregators created country-wide and worldwide lists of free articles. Aggregators were now in control. Disaster ensued. (Please skip the whole “everything on the Internet should be free” and “data wants to be free” evangelism) Business models were annilihated. Why pay for quality content when I can have it for free. And because of the plethora of information sources, a little guy, without highly unique and valuable content, cannot start charging and expect anybody to pay. Once free, making content un-free ain’t easy.

    However, NewsCorp isn’t a little guy. Their WSJ and Barrons factories produce very valuable, unique and highly-trustworthy content and they break numerous important stories on a daily basis. As do a couple of dozen (hundred?) other big news content production houses. So, the question is, can NewsCorp round up the next 20 biggest producers of unique, trustworthy, story-breaking, high-value news content and have all of them boycott Google and other “thief-like” aggregators and instead jointly participate in their own co-owned news aggregator. (In concept, it’s similar idea to those video content producers all getting together with Hulu) But you are going to have to pay to use this co-owned news aggregator. And it’s not clear that you can find such high-value, trustworthy, timely, news-breaking content elsewhere.

    That’s the question. That’s the plan.

    Seems like a very reasonable path to me. Will it work?

    Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Sure seems like it’s worth attempting.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Kevin, News Corp actually has skilled search marketers throughout their organization. It’s the high level execs who don’t seem to know the nitty gritty that they really should know.

    Kskifstad, if I may call you that, yes, it will be interesting to see what happens.

    David, I’m not just an SEO “geek,” I’m a journalist. Just like News Corp, I write valuable content. I make my living doing it, and somehow I do it despite Google being a so-called thief.

    No one is questioning that they can do what they want with their content. In fact, most of the digital savvy people are simply scratching their heads over why if Murdoch really believes Google is somehow robbing him of his content, why doesn’t he drop out of Google. It’s easy to do. He could do it within minutes.

    But honestly, when you suggest that content has somehow been given to Google or other aggregators, it sounds like you could use a search geek to explain how search engines work. Can you point me to where in Google News where Google is reprinting Murdoch’s content. Where’s the free stuff I get from Murdoch on Google News?

    I don’t get anything free there. I get nothing reprinted there. I get a link, where I then click over to one of his sites. That’s theft? He gave what to Google? A phone number where people could call on his web sites for more information?

    At best, Murdoch and gang will argue that people who find them on Google are people who in the past would have come to them directly. Maybe. Then again, there’s a lot of people who would have never gone to them in the past who go now. But none of this gets quantified by News Corp. They just put out a lot of rhetoric on how Google had done all these terrible things to them despite the fact that they could opt-out at any moment. And that rather than opt-out, to date, they’ve deliberately invited Google to help them gain more visitors — and that in fact, they even spend money to get those visitors from Google.

    Yes, I get the entire Hulu For Newspapers idea. See my other post, Google’s Love For Newspapers & How Little They Appreciate It. Sure, I’m all for it. Let’s see if they can make a go of it. But just get on with it, already.

    But keep in mind, there’s a difference between being an aggregator where you show links to content on other sites and a aggregator where you provide access to paid content. Google doesn’t let you read articles (except in limited cases as with the AP, where the AP itself has said they want Google to host stories). Google and most aggregators link out.

    Your assumption of what Murdoch may want to do is more to run a collective news portal. That it’s a super newspaper with content from a variety of sources, and that you pay to read those stories.

    Murdoch doesn’t need a super portal to do this.As I’ve explained, he can go completely subscription-based and STILL get traffic from Google. But if he doesn’t want his content represented in Google at all, because he thinks people will deliberately seek out his super portal, I also get that. He’s not said that’s the plan, but sure, it could well be.

    In the end, he might find, however, that people will continue to merrily use Google for all types of things. News is a tiny portion of what it provides. My prediction is that any news portal will eventually come back because they want the free traffic that Google can provide.

    But you can ask the Belgian newspapers about that. After suing Google to be removed (because using robots.txt as a free, easy solution wasn’t in their interest), they got a court to demand that Google remove them.

    So it did. And these papers, so worried that Google which had launched Google News Belgium that they feared would kill them, got their wish. Google was out of the news business in Belgium.

    And then they asked if they could get back in. Belgian Papers Back In Google; Begin Using Standards For Blocking gives you the background.

    That was two years ago. Maybe Murdoch does have a grand news portal plan that’s going to fly. Personally, I think he’s just making noise in hopes of getting Google to cut a deal to include News Corp content. He wants to be listed, and he wants to be paid to be listed. And he might be “must carry” enough that they would consider this. But if he gets that, I don’t expect he’ll be lobbying much to help save others in the space who are less “must carry” but are supporting his cries. He’ll be stronger; they’ll be weaker.

    But we’ll see.

  • David W

    Danny, of course, you are a journalist and not just a search geek, but with all due respect, you’re not “must carry” to very many people and you don’t have a well known barnd. Hence, you NEED Google and Techmeme, etc. to bring you traffic. Those aggregators bring you much value. You may not be able to survive without them.

    But NewsCorp doesn’t need them like you do and it’s not clear how much value they have for NewsCorp.

    I never said “content has somehow been given to Google or other aggregators”. I said aggregators created lists of free articles. I said aggregators were in control. With news, people don’t start off interested in a specific story. People are interested in “what’s today’s news?” That’s a list of stories. That’s a newspaper. Many people may get their full needs quenched just from reading the headlines. Others may need a paragraph. Others, two paragraphs. Others may want the whole article. Hence, Google effectively gets to offer that newspaper for just about free with no content creation costs and they compete with the NewsCorps of the world who need and want to charge for this stuff.

    So you say that digital savvy people are scratching their heads about why NewsCorp just doesn’t drop out of Google’s indexing immediately. Well, these supposedly savvy people don’t seem very savvy to me. In fact, they seem like geeks who think that a complex and delicate business and public perception problem can be solved by editing a file on a web site. It’s a preponderously ridiculous and naive viewpoint. Note that based upon the other stuff you write, I do not consider this to be your viewpoint.

    Murdoch CANNOT solve his problem by dropping out all by himself. With the NYTimes and the Financial Times and Bloomberg and still playing ball with Google, Murdoch’s all-by-himself exit from Google will fail. In the grand scheme of things, he will not be missed.

    Murdoch CANNOT solve his future public perception problem (that is, “Hey greedy Murdoch, you now want to charge us for stuff that we have always been getting for free?) without explaining in advance and repeating himself and repeating himself and repeating himself about how content creation is expensive and it needs to be paid for and Google ain’t paying for content creation. Yet, Google effectively gets to offer a newspaper for free with a table of contents of articles. It’s like a political campaign and you need to repeat the message ad nausea and messages like this sink in only slowly over time. He’s not trying to have this message sink in to you or me or the digital savvy folks. He needs the message to sink in to the masses who will eventually have to support Murdoch & Co. with the $s and not revolt if a paid Hulu for Newspapers comes into existence. This is effectively a political campaign that needs to be waged to address the disasterous mistake that content providers made Day One of giving away their content away for free.

    Does Murdoch truly believe that Google is (and the other aggregators are) robbing him? No and yes.

    No, in the sense that IF AND ONLY IF a viewer clicks a link on a NewsCorp headline, then Murdoch will get some traffic. But, he has spoken to this directly and said that this flyby traffic ain’t worth much to him or his advertisers. And sorry, Danny, I know you might want this quantified, but that info is Murdoch’s info and he will decide whether to offer it up or not. You call it rhetoric. I call it waging a political campaign.

    Yes, in the sense that if Google couldn’t freeload off of content creator’s headlines, then Google couldn’t offer up an electronic newspaper of headline for free. Content creators could offer up this electronic newspaper for a modest and reasonable fee. How much? I don’t know, say $20 per year for headlines, a nickel a day. Seems fair. Multiple that 20m or 50m or 100m or 200m potential headline readers? Well, that’s some pretty serious robbery. Granted, these numbers would need to play out over 3 to 5 to 10 years, but it’s not inconceivable if this is the only outlet to truly get the important news. (And, on top of the $20 per year for headlines, each content web site may / may not charge for the full articles.)

    Imagine the daily news headlines without the WSJ, NYTimes, WashPost, Chicago SunTimes and Trib, LA Times, Financial Times, Bloomberg, AP, various newswires, and the next hundred most important news sources that listed at the bottom of the Drudge Report.

    Hulu for Newspapers very well might win and own the market.

    Now the other reason why Murdoch CANNOT immediately exit Google is that he would have to organize and coordinate all the content creators for this Hulu for Newspapers or be damn sure that he has enough critical mass so that he has a big enough snowball rolling down the hill that it accelerates and increases in size.

    Given this, your “just get on with it, already” shows a lack of appreciation of what it takes to put something like this together. For you, the journalist, it’s another story to report on, so let’s go guys, get on with it, I’m ready to write about it. For Murdoch, the businessman, it’s probably the most important and more strategic thing that he has on his “news media” plate right now – how to structure it, how to price it, how to organize it, how to create an underlying infrastrucutre for it, how to prepare the masses for it, how it market it …

    And maybe in the end, Google can offer him an even better business proposition as you suggest. But I doubt it because I don’t believe Google makes much on this whole “news for free” offering, so there ain’t a giant pot of money to share.

    And that’s the whole point, isn’t it. Somebody has to pay for quality content creation.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/ TrafficColeman

    Danny..I must say that I’m not too informed on Google News or the WJS. By saying that, I think I’m going to to start reading those online to boarding my reading of currents events.

    Thanks Danny

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    David, we could survive without Google, Techmeme and aggregators in general, if we had to. Google is our largest referring source, which is similar to many mainstream news site and to many sites across the web. But if it went poof, life goes on.

    But we don’t have to. Personally, no, we don’t see that we’re somehow losing value when Google lists us, any more than I think we’re losing value with AllThngsD points to us, or if we were listed in a phone book or mentioned in a television ad. These are all ways that people find us in addition to seeking us out directly.

    The Wall Street Journal has a brand that’s over 100 years old. Plenty of people naturally seek it out directly. And yet, one reason I’m a print subscriber is because of a direct mail campaign. I got a nice offer sent by snail mail to my home, and I decided I wanted to get it in print. Clearly, the WSJ despite its brand recognition still feels it has to do outreach. It clearly pays a lot for such outreach. So yes, not wanting to receive lots of traffic for free still feels odd.

    Actually, you’re incorrect about how people seek news. People seek news in two different ways. Call them browse and search. People will browse what’s in a daily newspaper to see what’s happening in the world. They’ll do the same with online news sites. They may hit an online news site owned by an actual news organization (CNN, WSJ, etc) because they, for whatever reason, feel that’s the best way to get their news. They might just turn on the TV. They might just take whatever Twitter tosses their way. The might hit an aggregator like Google News or Yahoo News (far more people go to Yahoo News than Google News).

    If there’s a story you’re particularly interested, you seek out news sources. You go into search mode. Michael Jackson’s dead? There’s a big fire in California? You might go to a news site that you expect will carry the news. Alternatively, you’ll search for information. And we simply know that many people will turn to search engines — not just news search engines — but search engines for answers. We see that in user behavior, in the spike of queries that hits after a big news event. We don’t see the smaller spikes, the long tail of specific interest, but it’s out there as well. Someone wants to know about health care — the perform a search, looking for news content.

    The established news organizations don’t do the search portion well, not that I’ve seen. They provide generally a search of their own content. If you’re satisfied that one particular publication has all you need to know on a topic, always has the best and most complete story, maybe that search is fine for you. But I suspect many people who search aren’t expecting that the story has to be from the same publication each time.

    So take away the browse component of Google News. You’re a newspaper; you drop out of Google. You drop off the radar screen for many people. Again, maybe that’s fine for your business model. Or maybe you’re ignoring a lot of quality traffic that if you were smart, you’d monetize better. And the story can be different depending on the publication. But I think it’s hard to argue someone doing a search on Google — straight Google, not Google News — is tapping into a Google “newspaper.”

    Google News is very much a paper that’s effectively created for free. It’s also one that as best we can tell, doesn’t make Google much money. It’s not the leading news site at all. It was far from the first, either. But they compete with News Corp. Not right now, because there’s no news from around the world service that News Corp provides. The WSJ doesn’t cover everything. For someone living in Los Angeles, it paints a radically different view of my local area. Nor does the Los Angeles Times cover my local community as well as its separately owned Daily Pilot. What’s happening with my local school is not going to be in the WSJ. And it’s not going to be in a News Corp portal, since they don’t have a local presence of any significance in my area.

    Maybe it will make it into that Hulu of news. If it does, I suppose the newspaper collective can then feel they now have more control. That they are driving people to their own news portal/search engine. And I guess maybe they’ll convince us all to pay $100 to $200 per year to access those stories, so that they’re retaining value because they’ve magically made news disappear from Google (and I suppose from Yahoo and Bing) through blocking. Somehow, I don’t think the Daily Pilot’s going to make that much money off its share of those revenues. I suspect it’s going to find that maybe some of those ad revenues its no longer getting, because pageviews have gone poof, were also useful to have. And I suspect the in-fighting among the papers will begin, about which one of them is being better featured in the search and browse algorithms they’ll have to employ.

    I don’t mean to suggest that there shouldn’t be a HuluNews. The papers would have been smart to have gotten that together ages ago. But even if it launches, the news consolidation and changes underway aren’t going to change. It’s going to be a tough slog and a gamble. It would seem smarter to build that brand while also still tapping into the existing channels, as well. But that’s to me, and a news exec might not agree.

    As for the why not do it now — get on with it stuff — Murdoch’s been talking about this for over a year. That’s a pretty long time. We seem finally close to the end game, where they’ll actually do some blocking. And yet, there’s not been much of a hint that there really is a Hulu to come. From the outside, to me, it still feels there’s no particular plan at all other than that by perhaps talking loud enough, Murdoch will get a deal similar to what the AP and AFP and others have gotten. Maybe he will. I think we both agree the WSJ itself is big enough to be a must carry. But Fox News? Yeah, I don’t think they’ll be missed much.

    I think Murdoch’s savvy enough to know that he’ll also never enlist all the papers to join a potential portal. As you say, the NY Times isn’t likely to play ball with their chief competitor.

    As for that greedy public, honestly, I just don’t see that registering with most people. Thomson and Murdoch have made out that the internet has somehow trained us that things should be free. No, I’d say television and radio have plenty to blame here. I don’t pay for Fox News. I don’t pay for Fox programming. Murdoch happily beams this out to me without one cent coming out of my wallet. He does so because right now, his ad revenues make me worthwhile. He has less ad revenues on the web for the moment, so suddenly as things get tighter, it’s the audience that’s the problem? And that he can retrain them?

    He’s not going to retrain anyone. It’s not that, in my view, people think “oh, I only want free stuff.” It’s that they pay for things that offer value to them. If they want to read a particular story, and the only way they can get that story or content in general is by buying it, they’ll do so. You have to show value to that audience (as the WSJ tries with its mailings). In other words, the audience if he locks everything down will be no more “retrained” in attitude than they were before. They’ll simply no longer have a choice. That free programming, those Simpson episodes, you now have to pay to watch them. Some will do that. Some will decide they can do without, because the Simpsons — or that news — just isn’t that important to them.

    I’ll also stress I’m not against paywalls at all. I’ve operated my own. I want to be paid for my work as a journalist. I want other journalists to be well paid. Subscription and ad can work together; being ads only is dangerous due to ad cycles as well as potential conflicts of interest that ads create. I just think he can do the paywall and get the traffic as well. I mean, he does have the paywall already, of course.

    The idea of charging to list headlines and summaries, certainly the AP wants that. But right now, that all seems within fair use. I mean, if you sit down and decide to manually summarize important headlines you see in an area of interest to you, is that a violation of copyright law? If so, then if anyone links to someone else, is that a violation? Murdoch could block Google, but someone else could come along and use humans to simply summarize all they see, organize news into categories. And the same newspapers that might decide to pursue a court case would probably find themselves stumbling across conflicts within their own organizations. For example, I’ve got a future piece on my personal blog where I’m going to dissect an LA Times story where much is coming from non-LA Times, non-wire service reports. They did the exact stuff that Murdoch, the AP and some others have accused the blogs of doing — but no one notices this stuff as much, because I guess the mainstream publications have done it for so long that the disruption isn’t there.

    I also still wonder just how much these news organizations are going to pay to Google for the free research service the get out of it. ALL their journalists seem to use Google these days to find information. There’s plenty of content creators that they draw upon to build their own stories. There’s plenty of content that is better than what traditional news sources put out, and they locate this stuff through search engines. And since they aren’t likely clicking on the ads as part of this, why are they freeloading off Google? And freeloading off the other content creators. Doesn’t Murdoch have enough money?

    Anyway, I guess we’ll see how things evolve. Certainly we seem to embark on a new chapter where some news publications may decide to withdraw entirely from Google. Maybe we will get that Hulu of news. I just think you could have it all — traffic to your own brand, build a cooperative news site owned by mainstream publications — and still be in search as well.

  • ronald

    I think they want to double dip.
    Google has show that you can monetize anonymous user by monetizing their intent.
    As in:
    Business Value = Eyeballs * intent

    The old media was used to monetizing demographic user data acquired by selling subscriptions. And basically double dip, get user to pay and sell their data to advertisers by use of statistical models.

    Business Value = Eyeballs * Demographics

    They seem to have problems thinking out of that box, and the user realizes that they want to double, if you include the shared distribution cost (user paid net access), triple dip and stays away from that. Basically saying I already pay part of your cost monetize me like Google, you not so smart people.

    On the other hand comparing a vertical site like searchengineland to a more horizontal news publishing site might also not totally fair.

    Some examples:
    Meaning = augmentation of data
    Information = Data in Context
    Context = Organized Data
    Learning = Self organization of Data

    Which means, I can read some headline and augment some data which gives me Context which reveals the Information hidden in that headline since I already have data available about it and be done. Now if they are lucky they and up with an anonymous reader, which they have no idea to monetize.
    With verticals that’s much harder to do this the Information is not easy to extract from a headline, since it way more specific. With verticals which have expert users and allow comments which allow a diversified view on things it’s even harder.
    Soon not only do I have to read the whole darn article, I also have to read the comments to build a better context. But it’s a much better guess who that user is, statistics again, which leads to more like the old demographics.

    In other words the best value would be a subscribing user with clear intent.

    Problem is the old media defends old thinking even if there are technical solution to help them out.

  • David W

    And the NewsCorp PR compaign continues …


    I’ll respond to a number of your comments above.

    “Actually, you’re incorrect about how people seek news. …”

    I agree with everything you say about the various and different ways that people seek news and the benefits that search engines bring to the table for its users. We have no differences here. But that is not what we are debating.

    I am focusing my specific point on people’s need for “what’s today’s (or this week’s) news?” and how that need is met in the marketplace with a product offering. That’s the main point that we are discussing and it’s the biggest and most valuable part of the overall news business. It’s a potential recurring revenue stream from every single person who can read for their entire life. (Yes, I know, you don’t need to read to watch TV or listen to radio. I’m focused on written material enhanced with audio and/or video) The random search for general information or an individual news story by the general public is a real need but it is extremely unclear whether people will ever directly pay for that. For highly specialized, accurate and up-to-date info/data for certain types of professionals, like doctors and lawyers and finance types, sure, for that there is an existing and large market .

    “Personally, no, we don’t see that we’re somehow losing value when Google lists us …”

    Of course not! Google doesn’t compete with you with a head-on competitive product. For YOU, Google offers much benefit with no downsides.

    “The Wall Street Journal has a brand that’s over 100 years old. … Clearly, the WSJ despite its brand recognition still feels it has to do outreach. It clearly pays a lot for such outreach.”

    Of course, Danny! Of course, businesses want to grow, no matter how big they are or how long they have been around. But they want to grow in order to increase profits.

    “I just think he can do the paywall and get the traffic as well. I mean, he does have the paywall already, of course.”

    “It would seem smarter to build that brand while also still tapping into the existing channels, as well.”

    “I just think you could have it all — traffic to your own brand, build a cooperative news site owned by mainstream publications — and still be in search as well.”

    “So yes, not wanting to receive lots of traffic for free still feels odd”

    This traffic is not for free! For Murdoch, it is traffic at the expense of a potential $100 to $200 per year from everyone forever. None of your thinking or discussion accounts for this most salient point. I just think that you are wrong here. And with this point we may simply agree to disagree.

    How do you build a HuluNews brand that requires payment when existing channels (Google News) offer the same thing for free? You simply can’t!

    In all this discussion, you don’t seem to think about the business and financial implications that a free Google News and its ilk are a replacement for buying a physical newspaper or buying the “electronic newspaper” (i.e. having to go directly to the WSJ or NYTimes or HuluNews site for today’s news). Google gets to offer a direct, head-on competitor for free for one reason and one reason only – Google has zero costs of content creation. Just because Murdoch may have a paywall on the WSJ, that does not begin to address the fact that he has to deal with a direct competitor that offers a viable and free product because Google “uses” / “takes” everyone else’s headlines. And I’ll say this one last time. Murdoch will fail if he exits on his own. Murdoch might succeed if he can corral the top 100 news sources to boycott Google News and create Hulu for Newspapers. Paid HuluNews only works if it renders the free Google News product “not viable” due to its lack of the necessary content to meet the public’s demand for “what’s today’s news?”.

    Now, can Murdoch still be in search, like you suggest? Maybe not. If Murdoch is still in search, we have your “Read the WSJ for Free” scenario via cutting and pasting of headlines into the search engine to gain access. And if you are going to say that’s a pain for some readers and enough of a hurdle that they will buy HuluNews, some smart whippersnapper is going to offer a dynamically generated set of free search links to effectively offer his own free version of HuluNews. This search access cannot be allowed if it is a backdoor to a freely generated HuluNews.

    “Somehow, I don’t think the Daily Pilot’s going to make that much money off its share of those revenues.”

    Nor do I. The little guys may indeed benefit from Google News. But the big guys
    are getting killed by Google News. Frankly, you agree with this yourself. “I guess maybe they’ll convince us all to pay $100 to $200 per year”. By keeping the status quo, big media gets zilch for the “electronic newspaper”. By Murdoch going on the warpath, he might be able to change the economic equation dramatically. He’s damn smart and courageous in my opinion to attempt to buck the conventional wisdom that information must be free. Is anyone else willing to step forward to attempt to save the industry? Every now and then, you do hear a little peep out of the NYTimes saying that they are thinking about doing some pay thing. And that’s about it. (And no, I don’t think that Murdoch is some good samaritan for the industry. I think he is concerned first and foremost about his shareholders, ie himself)

    “As you say, the NY Times isn’t likely to play ball with their chief competitor”

    I didn’t say this. In fact, I think the exact opposite. I think that it would be in the NYTimes’s interest to work with Murdoch. It is in their mutual interests to work together. Think Hulu; competitors working together. The top 100 news content creators must work together in boycotting Google to render Google News not viable.

    “As for that greedy public, honestly, I just don’t see that registering with most people.”

    “so suddenly as things get tighter, it’s the audience that’s the problem? And that he can retrain them?”

    You misunderstand what I was trying to say. When I say “greedy”, it’s not that the public is greedy. That’s not Murdoch’s PR problem. The public is simply consuming what is being offered to them. The public is not the issue. The “greedy” adjective applies to Murdoch himself. Once he tries to charge the public for news, the public will think Murdoch is the greedy one. Hence, Murdoch needs a PR campaign, in advance, repeated over a long time, to explain to the public that content creation is expensive and must be paid for and the main reason that have been receiving the news for free is because Google and its ilk are “taking” their property. (Not totally true, granted, but truth shouldn’t stand in the way of a good PR campaign) Murdoch needs to “win” the public over a bit, or at least mitigate their anger when the public gets charged for a prior free service.

    And regarding your line of thought for news organizations to pay Google for their freeloading, I have a simple and consistent response. If Google wants to charge people for a service that they offer, they should go ahead and do it. And then let’s see how well it works in the marketplace vis-à-vis a free Bing and Yahoo and Ask. Google has a business model that works wonderfully and hence they have no need to do ask you suggest, nor would they consider it, in my opinion. And if all those other content creators out there want to charge for their content, they should too.

  • http://www.OnlineMarketingPundit.com OMPundit


    I am a web geek and professional internet dude in general and I think you have some misunderstanding of how the Internet has changed things. You keep refrencing ideas that were workable back before we had the Internet, the days of people only having 1-2 sources for entertainment, news, social activity, etc… are over. Old media is dying and most are struggling very hard to find a home and a NEW business plan in todays environment. You statements show great disdain for the “free” side of theweb but it has become a viable business model. Google is the king of this, look how they have grown by providing a FREE service of search. My only point is that after reading your statements I think it would be to you advantage to read and learn about what the Internet is and has become, old traditions and beliefs can’t maintain any business when change and innovation are constant. And for the record if they did cut off google, slow their traffic, and road block almost everything with a subscriber model they will continue to learn the lesson of failure for not adapting that all the big traditional newspapers are feeling already for print and online.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Dave, enjoying the discussion.

    Google News doesn’t compete with the WSJ to me. That’s because the WSJ has a selection of stories for a particular audience, an audience in particular that wants business news. It’s not a general purpose newspaper.

    But fair enough, it does compete in the sense that the WSJ may believe everyone — or lots of people — should start their day with them. But then they compete with themselves, at least Murdoch does — which of his many news sites should I be starting with. And Yahoo? And Microsoft?

    As for the traffic being free, it is free. I get that as far as Murdoch is concerned, he’s losing $200 per year. I also get that he’s clearly willing to spend money to attract paid subscribers. Convert the people he gets better. That can be done. If not, shift from First Click Free to Subscription Only in Google. That was the main point of this piece. He still gets visitors, perhaps visitors that convert better. And he doesn’t lose any of his content.

    At worse, staying in Google still helps them compete against him if he firmly believes the mere presence of his links in Google keep people there who would otherwise come to the WSJ and other News Corp properties. Well, that’s his opinion — he’d have to judge.

    As for a replacement, I think a lot about it. I think the reality is that the existing papers are fighting a losing battle, if they think they can put aggregators back in the bottle. I mean pick you paper, they offer a feed. None of them complain that when I put that feed into Google Reader to build my personalized newspaper, that somehow they’ve lost out.

    I think the reality is — and I’ll be working on a longer piece about this — is that aggregators are here to stay. If you were really smart as a paper, you’d build a better Google News than Google News, one that features content from around the web with a preference of your own. At least I think that would be smart. I could be completely off the mark. I just think publications need to have a two tier approach. Build your paper for the dedicated audience that always comes to you and be represented in the places where audiences like to mix and match.

  • David W

    Agreed that Google News is not exactly the WSJ Journal. But it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to imagine a Google Business News that is directly competitive. And the WSJ Journal has ambitions of covering more political and general news.

    But let’s not get sidetracked with labels. For me, when I write “Google News”, that is synonymous with news aggregators. When I write Murdoch, it’s often synonymous with owners of the “must carry” content for an imagined paid HuluNews service. When I write the WSJ, it’s often synonymous with a HuluNews “must carry” content creator.

    That said, I also agree that aggregators are here to stay. Aggregators have low operating costs, no content cost (for the moment), provide clear benefits to certain market segments and hence are potentially good businesses. No question there. The question may be what content is available for free to the aggregators, what is available for a price and what is not available at all.

    I also agree that most “old media” newspapers are fighting a losing battle, especially the small and midsized newspapers. They are going to get killed because they have high fixed costs, they do not offer anywhere close to “must carry” content and hence will have enormous challenges in charging for their content, they face many more direct competitors today in the Internet era than they used to and their revenues streams for classifieds, job listings, real estate, etc are being severely cannibalized by better Internet options. Their business models are toast. That said, I do not agree that just because papers do not complain out loud about feeds, etc. that one can thereby say that means they are not getting seriously harmed by this free content environment that they brought upon themselves. Nobody likes a complainer and if they complain and do nothing, that isn’t going to solve their problems.

    I understand that you think publications need your two tier approach. However, play along with me for a moment and let’s do a thought experiment.

    Let’s imagine that those top 100 “must carry” sources did get together and create a reasonably-priced HuluNews. (Frankly, I think the price would be much less than $100-200 per year, especially for low usage users. Yes, maybe some usage-based pricing a la cell phones and/or cable TV premium channels like the WSJ channel, but let’s not starting debating the exacting prcing structure of an imagined service and they surely better not make it complex.) Let’s also assume that they boycott the news aggregators.

    This means that Google News does not include the 100 most important, most trust-worthy sources for today’s news.

    What do you think would happen in the marketplace over the next couple of years? Does HuluNews get serious uptake?

  • http://www.redmountainsw.com/wordpress/archives/understanding-news-corps-thrust Chui

    Murdoch is in a bind.

    News papers are in the business of circulation numbers. It has nothing to do with number of people who will take a particular action (CPA), or number of pages that people actually read (CPM), or the number of people who are actually interested in a particular topic.

    Taken to the ultimate extreme, newspapers will not be in business anyway. Their approach is to starve search traffic visitors of the ability to get multiple perspectives on a single news item, but rather to stay on their property long enough to make it count for advertisers.

    The Fox ‘news’ experiment has clearly shown that the only way to build an audience is to develop opinionated content that the viewer already agrees with.

    The next step is to capture users by starving them of alternatives. A general strike by the market leaders may be all it takes.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide