Murdoch On Blocking Search Engines: “I Think We Will”

    November 19, 2009

There’s a chance that the content produced by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and a number of other important organizations will soon become impossible to find using Google.  Rupert Murdoch indicated in a recent interview that News Corp. may block search engines.

News Corp. is the world’s second largest media group.  It owns enough stuff that even hitting the highlights would take far too much time.  (Wikipedia has an 861-word entry titled "List of assets owned by News Corporation" if you’re feeling adventurous.)

Murdoch’s interview with Sky News editor David Speers could be of huge significance, then.  In it (the relevant part of the conversation starts around the 3:10 mark), Murdoch said, "We’d rather have fewer people coming to our website, but paying."  In reference to "search people," he next added, "They don’t suddenly become loyal readers of our content."

Finally, in response to a question regarding why News Corp. doesn’t just block search engines, Murdoch said, "Well, I think we will . . ."

But here’s the tricky part: Murdoch cited the Wall Street Journal’s current approach to pay walls and subscriptions as an example of what he’d like to implement on a larger scale, and it’s actually possible to access WSJ stories using Google.  It’s only when clicking around within the WSJ that you run into truncated articles.

So we – and a lot of industry decision-makers – will see what happens.  Whichever way Murdoch leans, he definitely has the power to start a trend.

UPDATE: Danny Sullivan has pointed out a sort of middle ground at which Murdoch might arrive: "Publishers can have Google News index the entire text of their articles but NOT show the full story to visitors who come from Google (for Google’s web search, that’s not an option – but you can provide summary pages).  They can also, if they choose, have only a small summary of their content indexed."

That would allow News Corp.’s properties to by and large stick to the WSJ model without sacrificing loads of search traffic and becoming less visible to potential ad-clickers and paying customers.  A smart compromise, perhaps.

As for when a change might go through, Jon Miller, News Corp.’s Chief Digital Officer, gave a rough deadline by talking about "months and quarters – not weeks" at a conference yesterday.  But according to Emma Barnett, he also indicated that News Corp. wouldn’t do anything drastic on its own, which may either be a polite way of contradicting Murdoch’s statements or a hint that the industry really is about to change. 

Related Articles:

MySpace To Miss $100 Million From Google Search Deal

> Murdoch Says Newspapers Must Charge For Online Content

> News Corp. Posts Disappointing Financial Results