Tag Archives | Rupert Murdoch

Mr. Murdoch, Build Up That Content Wall!

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?


I Wish That You’d Pay for Web Content. But Would You?

T-PollImagine someone spending fifteen years furiously digging themselves into a deep, dangerous hole…and then bitterly complaining about the fact that he or she is trapped at the bottom of a deep, dangerous hole. That’s the situation with today’s media industry..of which, of course, I count myself as a member. Starting in the mid-1990s, publishers began to give away content for free on the Web, a decision which profoundly impacted the economics of the business. Now the business is crumbling. Everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Associated Press is grousing about the business model which they helped to create. And publishers are trying to figure out how to charge for what they’ve given away for years.

The New York Observer has an interesting report on plans the New York Times is formulating to get online readers to pay in some fashion. One scenario involves Times Web content being free until a visitor’s reached a certain word count of number of page views; another would launch a membership system that sounds a lot like a public TV pledge drive. The first sounds unwieldy; the second might work for an august institution like the Times, but won’t save most of the industry.

I cheerfully admit that I’d like to see media companies figure out a way to make consumers comfortable with the idea of forking over cash for digital content. As a reader, I want to see the publications I love prosper, or at least manage to stay in business. As a journalist, I’d like to work in an industry with a business model that ensures that sites like, oh, Technologizer can thrive.

(Note: I have no plans to demand money from folks who read this site. But I just set up a Kindle version of Technologizer using Amazon’s new self-serve blog publishing system–the listing is live, but you won’t be able to subscribe for a day or two. It’ll cost $1.99 a month and I kinda think that I’ll be lucky if I make enough from my cut to buy myself a burrito every now and then.)

I wish I had some profound insight into how the media biz might make readers willing to pay for content again. I don’t. But these points seem self-evident:

1) Once you’ve begun to give something away for free, it’s mighty hard to convince someone that he or she should pay for it;

2) It’s tough to charge when you have direct competitors that don’t;

3) It is possible to charge for usually-free content if it’s in a form that provides new benefits (which is why people will pay for CSI as a DVD box set or an iTunes download even though it’s free on CBS);

4) It is possible to charge for high-quality stuff you can’t otherwise get (which is how HBO became a big business in the 1970s, even though TV had been free for decades);

5) Charging for something new that was never free isn’t inherently implausible (which is why the notion of paying two bucks a month to read blogs on the Kindle makes more sense than blogs announcing that they’re instituting a $2 subscription fee on the Web).

Add up all of the above, and I still don’t see a scenario developing in the immediate future in which millions of people pay meaningful amounts of money for the digital equivalents of newspapers and magazines. Then again, much of the Web’s history to date wasn’t predicted by anyone, so I’m not siding with the folks who say that it’s inevitable that the Web will be (mostly) free forever either.

Let’s end this with a T-Poll: