Two things are clear about Rupert Murdoch’s pronouncements that he will build a pay wall around his sites, and that he’ll make them invisible to Google’s search engine.
First, he’ll fail utterly if that’s all there is. (How much would you pay for NYPost.com? Yeah, I thought so.) Second, given his track record as a media visionary, we should be cautious not to assume that’s all there is. As I told Chris Lefkow of Agence France Presse a few days ago, Rupe has a history of being two or three steps ahead of everyone else.
Now, it’s unclear what Murdoch may have in mind, and it’s likely that’s because he doesn’t know yet, either. But a media-savvy Media Nation reader has been feeding me stories suggesting that newspaper publishers — including Murdoch — may be inching toward an embrace with Microsoft, whose well-regarded search engine, Bing, has quickly established itself as the number-two competitor to Google.
Imagine some of the ways that this might work. Let’s start with the fact that all any Web publisher has to do is insert some code into its site in order to stop Google News from including it in its search results. No one dares do that, because Google drives lots of traffic to those sites. But publishers have long chafed at Google’s refusal to share any of its ad revenue with them.
But if you had to use Bing rather than Google in order to find content from a number of Big Media players, then you’d have to broaden your searches to two engines. Murdoch and his fellow media moguls might keep their sites open (smart) in return for Microsoft sharing the revenue it earns from selling ads tied to news content.
Or Microsoft might devise a more fine-tuned digital-rights-management system so that content-providers could offer a variety of open, closed and semi-open options (not so smart). There might even be a way for Google to include such content in its own searches as long as it didn’t upset Bing’s infrastructure.
At TechCrunch, Mike Butcher describes meetings that Microsoft is already having with European publishers. According to Butcher, Microsoft is prepared to invest nearly $170,000 in research and development. (I realize this sounds a bit like Lorne Michaels’ offering the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on “Saturday Night Live.”)
Jason Calacanis imagines Microsoft making a pitch that goes something like this:
Want to search the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and 3,894 other newspapers and magazine?
Well, then don’t go to Google because they don’t have them!
Go to Bing, home of quality content you can trust!
At Slate, Jack Shafer has more, with links from others hypothesizing what may be happening.
What’s clear is that Murdoch is going to try something dramatic, and that he’ll most likely have some major players on his side. What he’s saying right now may bear little resemblance to the strategy that ultimately emerges.
Earlier: Rupe prepares to take the plunge.