Mr. Murdoch, Build Up That Content Wall!

By  |  Monday, November 9, 2009 at 12:31 pm

MurdochwallLike many media moguls, Rupert Murdoch keeps accusing Google of unfairly monetizing his sites’ content by indexing and selling ads next to search results that contain links to it. Now he’s talking about fighting back, by taking the simple step of instituting fees for access to News Corp. online properties and then blocking Google from indexing them.

As Staci Kramer of PaidContent points out, it’s not entirely clear what Murdoch is talking about, or even that he knows what he’s talking about. He says this strategy would be similar to what the Wall Street Journal does, but while the Journal does indeed have a pay wall, it actually lowers it for visitors who arrive from Google.

As far as I know, no major media sites are currently actively preventing Google from crawling their content or otherwise trying to prevent the company from helping people find stories and making money along the way. (A half a decade ago, some publishers–including IDG, where I worked at the time–checked to see if visitors were arriving from Google and told ones who were to come back via the home page–but the experiment was futile, self-destructive, and short-lived.)

I’m probably in the the minority among my media-industry peers here–and it may be a minority of one–but I (A) think Murdoch’s plan is a silly, self-defeating idea, and (B) hope that he does indeed put it into action.

Here’s why:

  • I’m tired of hearing media executives whine about Google without doing anything about its alleged misconduct. It’s extremely easy to configure a Web site to prevent Google from crawling it. So why don’t these sites that are so nonplussed about being in Google’s index opt out? If Murdoch blocks Google, he’ll at least be safe from charges of inconsistency and/or hypocrisy.
  • I’m in favor of multiple business models for content sites. Technologizer is doing fine as a mostly ad-supported enterprise, thank you very much, but the media business will ultimately be healthier if there are multiple potential revenue streams–ads, monthly subscriptions, maybe even pay-per-use for some stuff. You know, kind of like TV. If News Corp. goes through with this, I’ll at least give it credit for experimenting rather than dithering.
  • I’m willing to pay for some stuff. Yes, that attitude is colored to some degree by the fact that I’m in the media biz myself, and no, I can’t think offhand of any News Corp. properties I’m dying to shower in money. (I don’t even have a WSJ subscription at the moment.) But I’d rather live in a world in which some consumers get used to paying for some online content than in one in which sites are doomed if they can’t make a go of things based on advertising alone.
  • Watching other people gamble is constructive. If the Murdoch paywall flops as spectacularly as most folks think it will, it’ll be a useful confirmation that everybody was right in the first place. If it’s disappointing, but less so than everyone expects, that’s useful information, too. And if it somehow pays off, other media sites can claim they knew it would all along, and rush to imitate the News Corp. approach.

But enough about my reaction to Rupert’s ruminations. You?



7 Comments For This Post

  1. V Says:

    Interesting viewpoint. Like you, I am willing to wait and watch. A single path to anything (a monopoly) is always bad for us end consumers. And if Google is the only way to find content, that is also not good.

  2. ksantani Says:

    Good for them… this will help them in dying sooner than later 🙂

  3. Millard Says:

    Definitely would like to see him try it, largely for the reasons you point out.

    However, if I were one of this writers, I’d be trying to figure out how to keep my work available outside this wall. Could really limit a writer’s option for getting their work seen — how depressing to go from a possible audience of million to thousands.

    Do publishers bitch about The Week? They largely “free load” in a similar way (though they may pay for the media, at least the magazines, they summarize from).

  4. Raffers Says:

    It’s going to fail horribly for one particular reason – the BBC. Due to the license fees, they wouldn’t ever be able to implement a fee or they would have an entire nation rise up against them. Therefore, there will always be a source of free news from experienced journalists working for a major news organisation, and I doubt any of his current readers would willingly pay for news when they can easily access it from other sites (I’m not saying that the BBC is the only free news site, but it is an example where free, professionally researched news will always be available no matter what), and if Murdoch is going to limit access to his own sites, it can only ever lead to failure.

  5. Vince Says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how this works out in the long run. Are we moving away from Chris Anderson’s business model of “FREE” online? Are we ready for a world filled with fees for quality of content?

  6. Tech Says:

    All Mr Murdoch is going to do is lose readers.

  7. Pasty Muncher Says:

    If you had a niche of seriously private content that you advertised heavily – perhaps then you would attract some visitors. What is up Rupert’s sleeve I wonder – streaming video of page 3 girls reading business articles from the Times? How much would you pay?

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