By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Rupe prepares to take the plunge

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

News executives love to rail against Google as a parasite that steals their content. Yet none dares to insert a simple piece of code that would make their sites invisible to Google’s search engine.

Until now. Rupert Murdoch, the biggest, baddest media mogul of them all, says he’s moving ahead with plans to start charging for content across the News Corp. mediascape. And he adds that when the moment arrives, he will indeed block Google from indexing his content.

Murdoch even goes so far as to say that he’ll eventually mount a legal challenge to the doctrine of fair use, which allows third parties to use small snippets of copyrighted material without permission for certain purposes, including education and criticism — and, in Google’s view, search indexing.

Publishers have long had a love-hate relationship with Google and Google News. On the one hand, Google News, for many people, has established itself as a substitute front page, making newspaper home pages all but irrelevant. On the other hand, many newspaper.coms receive much of their traffic from Google.

Now Murdoch has adjusted the equation to pure hate.

Two predictions:

First, he may enjoy some success in shoring up, by far his highest-quality outlet, which is already partly subscription-based. But if he thinks people will pay for online access to the sagging New York Post or even a successful operation like Fox News, then he’s going to learn a bitter lesson.

Second, by essentially killing his Web sites, he may well succeed in shoring up print circulation. That’s a short-term strategy, but it may be exactly what he’s got in mind.

Photo of Murdoch at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davis is (cc) by the World Economic Forum, and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. I haven’t seen anyone comment on the fact that Google and News Corp (or facsimile, thereof) have a pre-existing relationship with MySpace that may be coloring this whole thing.

    I read somewhere last week that Google committed to paying MySpace $900 million over three years, starting in 2006, if MySpace hit traffic targets. Those targets, according to the story I read, are in danger in year three. If MySpace loses Google’s payment, it’s going to be a big hit to MySpace, which is already losing money and burning through users.

    Is Murdoch just pushing back?

  2. rozzie02131

    That’s just weird. The WSJ has had a special relationship with Google News. If you try to access a story from the WSJ home page, you get a couple of sentences as a tease, and an offer to pay up if you want to finish. If you click from Google, you get the whole story for free.

    Does Murdoch not know about this deal? Why would his company go to great lengths to allow single-story access, and then decide to block the indexing that provided that access?

  3. Newshound

    Maybe the Peter principle will finally roost with Rupert.

  4. Steve Stein

    The Great Orange Satan reacts:

    “Time to celebrate — Murdoch to hide his crap

    “With luck, Murdoch will also order Fox News to pull their stuff off Google News and enact a paywall to keep those freeloading communist conservatives from reading the material for free. It’d be the fair and balanced things to do. And I, for one, can’t wait.”

  5. Michael Pahre

    People pay for for its *news* content, not for its editorials and op-ed.

    No one in their right mind would pay for for its news content, since it is nearly all duplicated elsewhere.

    Instead, the visitors to FNC’s website go there for that point-of-view (or slant or bias, depending on who you ask) on the news-of-the-day — sort-of like opinion pieces. But that is a minority interest — a small segment of the readership — so I can’t imagine how making people pay for FNC’s website would attract anyone more than a narrow slice of the public who want to read that perspective.

    WSJ vs. FNC is the comparison of specialized, valuable news content vs. specialized, dime-a-dozen-opinion-making.

    Hence, a money-losing proposition. Murdoch’s fallen off his rocker.

    He’ll end up being far less influential in national politics than he is now.

  6. jon

    From a quote of yours i read:
    “I think that when you’re talking about Rupert Murdoch there’s one of two things going on,” said Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.

    “His biggest venture into online so far was MySpace and he overpaid for it and picked the worst possible time to buy it. Thus far his track record is not very good.”

    From my understanding News paid $580 million for it, then sold Google the advertising rights to it for $900 million one year later.

    Sounds like a reasonable track record to me.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Jon: Your understanding is wrong. Murdoch promised Google that MySpace would generate a certain volume of traffic. MySpace has fallen short (and it’s only going to get much worse), and thus Google doesn’t have to pay as much. See this. Could be one of the reasons that Murdoch is trash-talking Google these days.

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