Murdoch’s War with the Aggregators

    December 9, 2009

Rupert Murdoch spoke last week at the FTC’s journalism and the Internet workshop and again slammed news aggregators and search engines:

"And yet there are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production. Some rewrite, at times without attribution, the news stories of expensive and distinguished journalists who invested days, weeks or even months in their stories—all under the tattered veil of "fair use.""

So what does Murdoch really want to happen? It sounds as if he wants the rules of fair use to be drastically changed or even to be eliminated. Even if fair use was eliminated the newspaper revenue problem would still remain … so why fight the aggregators?  

The aggregators like Google News and the search engines themselves drive tons of free traffic to newspaper websites. The assumption from the beginning of news aggregation was that free traffic was a good thing that could be turned into increased ad revenue for the content creator.

I should mention that I know a little bit about news aggregation since I created the very first news aggregation site on the Internet, in 1996. I faced a similar backlash from newspaper companies back then, with many including the Wall Street Journal actually contacting me asking if I had permission to deep link to their articles. My typical answer was that I did not have permission and since the nature of the Internet was links to content, I didn’t believe I needed permission. Their reply 100% of the time was to keep linking, because I was driving them a lot of free traffic. 

Murdoch and other publishers have it within their power to exclude themselves from Google and any other search engine. Why complain about the problem when it can be fixed today for free? News Corp can remove all traces of their content from Google, Google News, Bing and Yahoo by simply contacting their own IT department!

The truth is that Murdoch actually wants it both ways. He wants the traffic from aggregators and search engines and he wants them to pay him for the privilege of driving that traffic to him. Rumors are that Murdoch is currently working on a deal with Microsoft’s Bing to do just that.

What Murdoch really may want is for Google, with a 70%+ market share, to pay him not to exclude his content from Google’s engine. Murdoch believes that Google is profiting from the content of his online properties which includes the Wall Street Journal. After all, without the content of major publishers Google would be of less interest to its users, wouldn’t it?

If you removed the content of all old media publications from the Google search engine what would Google be left with? Its search results would consist of blogs (which do a lot of rewriting) and independent sites of which many are Internet only publications. Would that make Google less relevant and eventually less used by the public? It would still include our site WebProNews, CNet, Mashable, Politico and thousands of other newsand information websites who refused to join the "no-index coalition".

It would strike a blow at Google’s goal of making all of the world’s information accessible, but it wouldn’t necessarily make Google significantly less valuable to its users. The Internet includes social media, which Google now includes as well, where the people in the stories are also the reporters. The first information about the Hudson River plane landing came from a passenger Twittering about it. Even if you eliminated mainstream press reports from all search engines and news aggregation services it wouldn’t eliminate the news from being reported or from people quickly finding out about it.