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

Rupe to Google: Bing this, mate

Murdoch_on_BingTwo 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 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.

More: Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is thinking similar thoughts.

Earlier: Rupe prepares to take the plunge.

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  1. Newshound

    The Peter Principle is alive and well.

    Think of companies like Sears, Bethlehem Steel, Singer, etc. Something around 20% of businesses fail a year, on average.

    If Rupert stayed in Australia his chances of failure at the end of a lifetime of success would be almost nil, and most certainly with less risk.

    Hardly anyone had the vision to think that Dow Jones was worth what he borrowed and indebted himself to pay, nor would the Bancroft descendants and others agreed to sell if not a deal they could tolerate to lose. Dow Jones was not for sale when sold which, on the other hand, is a great way to sell anything.

  2. LFNeilson

    I dunno, a Beatles reunion for $3G — hey, they’d only have to split it two ways.

    Wanna bet Murdoch will launch a search engine? I agree with you, though, that he might not know where he’s going with this. Has to be frustrating, watching Google glomm all the revenue. Poor guy.

  3. LFNeilson

    We can each contribute half.

  4. Neil

    Twitter chief tells Murdoch: internet paywall will not work

    Charging to read news content is like ‘putting genie back in bottle’, says Twitter co-founder Biz Stone

  5. Mike LaBonte

    I remember the first few months of the WWW, before truly effective search engines existed. No one wants to go back to that dark age, and certainly not Rupert Murdoch.

    If Microsoft is part of Murdoch’s strategy – and it may be – helping Bing to overtake Google would have to be part of the strategy. One current news theme is that Bing is stagnant and Google is gaining. Other recent news bits tell us that Google threatens our privacy, and Microsoft may sign a deal with Yahoo. Is Murdoch indirectly behind these?

    But consider Mark Cuban’s assertion that Murdoch may not think he needs a search engine at all, because the future is in pushed delivery by the likes of Twitter and Facebook. I have to admit, I have more news delivered to me than searched for.

  6. Insidernegot

    Seems like everyone, including Murdoch confidant Pat Purcell, wants to go this way but is unwilling to be the first. Those who wait long enough feel they may see what works and what does not? Or perhaps they will all dive in at once?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mike: Thanks for sending that along. I hope to write it up for the Guardian tonight, and this gives me a great news hook.

  7. Local Editor

    Call me slightly crazy, but I’m thinking Murdoch might be on to something here. Getting readers to pay online may be impossible, but offering “exclusive” rights to link to his Web sites might just be a way to generate some additional revenue.
    I wouldn’t be too surprised if Google decides it wants to play too.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Local Editor: I think Murdoch may be on to something, too. Not sure that Google has to play. If Microsoft can establish Bing as a place where you can get high-quality news, then now you’ve got to search Google and Bing, even if Bing captures no more than 10 or 15 percent of the market.

  8. mike from norwell

    Actually Dan, look around Google Dashboard and you might be appalled as to how much info they are tracking on you. Kind of makes the aluminum foil hats in the crowd wonder if Google’s ultimate strategy is some sort of blackmail invoice as their end game;).

    Bing isn’t such a bad search site. If Murdoch does make this move, not too hard to switch over to Bing as the default search engine on your browser.

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