News, Bing, and Google — Why Rupert Might Be Right.

He might be right because he may not need the whole internet to see his news in order to make an online profit.

Recently, Rupert Murdoch made waves saying he would pull his companies properties from Google’s search engine. News Corp properties such as Fox News, Fox Sports, The Wall Street Journal, etc. are popular destinations on the net. A lot of folks go to those sites now, a lot of them driven there by Google searches.

Rupert thinks he can can strike a deal with someone (Microsoft is the leading candidate) to pay for the privilege to index News Corps’ sites — exclusively. Additionally, he presumably also charges for access to the content on those sites, as the Wall Street Journal currently does. His thinking is that his content is better than everyone else, and he can live with a smaller audience if that audience is paying.

Feel free to debate amongst yourselves.

He also thinks other news organizations will follow in this path; that, as Ana Marie Cox would say, makes him “crazypants with arrogance sauce on top”. That is another discussion, but suffice to say, I don’t think it will work.

But common ‘net wisdom laughs at the idea of cutting yourself off from mighty Google; surely News Corp can’t manage to get along without those Google eyeballs. Bing only has ten percent of search! Yahoo merely eighteen! Without Google’s sixty-plus percent of search, surely News Corp’s content is doomed to be unseen! By anyone!

Except … not so much.

Two problems.

Tiny, Tiny, 10 Percent

Have you seen the size of ten percent? Nielsen’s ten percent puts Bing (and Microsoft’s other search tools) at 1,156,415,000 searches.

That’s 1.1 billion. With a ‘b’.

It doesn’t really matter that Google sees 6.9 billion; 1.1 billion is a big number, and for Rupert’s purposes, you can make a lot of money getting a slice of those 1.1 billion to pay you. And of those 1.1 billion searches, some percentage of them will pass links on via digital word-of-mouth, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Ten percent is indeed enough to get a good story inserted into the internet consciousness; if one of his properties has a scoop, people will discover it quickly.

Indeed, the idea that search is the main driver for traffic may be anachronistic over a five-year horizon. There are just too many other social network sites, too many other conversations happening by other means.

Aggregating the Aggregators

Remember, Murdoch’s great issue with search engines is that people are “stealing” his content by indexing it. They make money aggregating it after he created it. So he seeks to control this by erecting paywalls around content. That’s all well and good; he is certainly free to try this. But then there is this side idea of an exclusive indexing agreement. Such an agreement will make him some steady coin, and will be a loss-leader for the search engine in question. Think the Howard Stern Show for satellite radio.

Of course, as soon as Google/Bing/Yahoo meaningfully start to partition the internet, sites will spring up expressly to search across multiple search engines. The only reason this hasn’t happened is that while search results differ, they don’t differ in what they are trying to index. Search has been homogeneous in its raw material. Google has won so far because they index better. If someone built a much better search engine tomorrow, they could really threaten Google. (I’m not sure you could build a much better search engine, not tomorrow, however. Evolutionarily better, yes, revolutionary? Hard. And you’d have to fight against the Principle of Good Enough. Also hard.)

And yes, There Would Be Lawsuits, but that would take years, and probably make nothing clear. Meanwhile, toothpaste, long out of the tube.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem possible to actual control who can search for your pages; and I suspect that Murdoch doesn’t really care if he does.

But he is going to try charging for content, so he is ready to take a hit in terms of direct traffic already; restricting his search engine horizon will make little to no difference.

And you can bet he’d be happy to take Microsoft or Yahoo’s money for nothing.

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2 Comments on “News, Bing, and Google — Why Rupert Might Be Right.”

  1. Brian Says:

    There have been search engines that aggregate multiple search engines for a while now dogpile has been running since 1998 or so.

    I could see doing it for the WSJ that can trade on its reputation. Everyone who wants to read it is already paying for it. The kind of people who click on search links to the WSJ aren’t the kind of people who would pay for it anyway so why not monetize them by charging the search engine. It will probably be great for the WSJ since it will kill off some free riders. FOX news and the rest not so much.

  2. designbygravity Says:

    Yeah, my point was not so much that aggregating searches would be new, as they might get a tick up in popularity. We’ve never had the case where the major search engines were actively trying to index different non-overlapping portions of the web.

    I totally agree re: WSJ; if News Corp thinks they can replicate that for entertainment news … sad.

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