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Nov 10, 2009

Dear Rupert, this is how the internet works. Google it.

Rupert Murdoch may be rich, clever and influential, but his plan to remove News Corp content from Google's index is just daft. If he wants us to read his stories, let alone pay for them, we have to be able to find them first.


Dear Mr Murdoch,

While you’re undoubtedly rich and clever and influential, your plan to remove your news from Google’s index is just daft. If you want us to read your stories, let alone pay for them, we have to be able to find them first.

Last year more Americans got their news from the internet than newspapers. From the graph in that story, it looks like it’ll only be a few years before the internet surpasses television as well.

On the internet people — especially young people — don’t get their news in a monolith from one or two sources like a daily newspaper or nightly TV bulletin.

“The media revolution affects so many aspects of [young people’s] lives and news just happens to be one of them,” says Betsy Frank, Executive VP in charge of research at Viacom.

“They have no loyalty to media institutions like their parents did,” she says, and this won’t change as they get older.”

People now gather their news from all over the place in little pieces — using the “aggregators” you despise, search engines and, increasingly, personal recommendations from “friends” on networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

This is assuming they even want news to begin with.

As David Mindich, author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News, points out, “They are still just as thoughtful, intelligent — and I would argue — literate as ever before. What has changed is that young people no longer see a need to keep up with the news.”

Now this morning, Mr Murdoch, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misrepresenting your comments. Rather than watch your full 37-minute interview with Sky News Australia — deadlines, deadlines! — I wanted a news report.

I went to Google News and typed “murdoch block google”. The first result was this story at the UK’s Telegraph.

I went to Microsoft’s Bing and typed the same thing. Their top link was this story at the Guardian.

(I also searched the news at Yahoo!7 and their one and only result was a Crikey story from a month ago. Fail.)

I clicked through and read their stories — you don’t see full stories in search engines, Mr Murdoch, you have to click through. I saw their adverts. They got traffic.

Do you own the Telegraph or the Guardian, Mr Murdoch?

Oh dear.

There are many reasons the Telegraph and Guardian stories may have ranked higher in Google’s search results, but the key one is how many people linked to those stories. Google treats a link as a recommendation. A vote for relevance.

People don’t link to stories behind a paywall, so they’re inevitably ranked lower.

If you ask Google not to index your stories, they won’t be discovered at all.

As Google’s spokesman told the Telegraph, “Google News and web search are a tremendous source of promotion for news organisations, sending them about 100,000 clicks every minute.”

“Publishers put their content on the web because they want it to be found, so very few choose not to include their material in Google News and web search. But if they tell us not to include it, we don’t.”

I’m worried on behalf of your shareholders, Mr Murdoch.

If you don’t know how the internet works as a news medium — and if you don’t even know how your own news sites work, as the Guardian story pointed out when you stuffed up the description of the WSJ.com paywall — they’re screwed.


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27 thoughts on “Dear Rupert, this is how the internet works. Google it.

  1. Glenn

    My guess is Mr Murdoch is surrounded by “yes” men who agree with everything he says to keep their jobs.

    Someone should tell him, he will not be able to charge for news and worse still quality journalism is not as in demend as it used to be.

    I just don’t think the man in the street cares that much nay more, things have changed, he will get the news on the radio on his way home from his 3rd job he needs to pay the mortgage.

    The days of good ol”e Dad sitting in an armchair sifting through a broadsheet are long gone just as surely as the pipe he had in his mouth has now disappeared.

    Rethink Mr Murdoch, rethink, think laterally, a web site is your own personal TV station, promote it and charge for ads while supplying for free what it takes to get your audience.

  2. Gail

    This is real “shoot yourself in the foot” territory. What was he thinking?

  3. Sean Carmody

    Stil, did you see Jason Calacanis’s theory that News Corp will squeeze more money out of Bing to have exclusive search access to News Corp content?

  4. Matt C

    I think Crikey needs to try harder to avoid hypocrisy over the whole “paywall” issue.

  5. Glenn

    Matt, I thought of that but Crikey is not only cheap but gives you access to people and information that you really cant get in one place elsewhere, the information is presented cleanly and without padding.

    I’ll pay for what Crikey delivers but I wont pay for the general news.

    Although Crikey charge, there’s no way this model could support the needs of News Ltd.

  6. Stilgherrian

    I’m currently discussing some of these issues on Twitter. While I’m aware of the “paywalls break the internet” theory, I reckon that confuses the transport layer (moving bytes of data between computers) with the content layer, and whether people are paying for that content or not.

    People are certainly willing to pay for content that’s of value to them, whether that’s detailed financial analysis or up-to-date trading data or things like Stratfor‘s analysis of international geopolitics and risk. Rupert’s experience with WSJ.com is in that arena.

    One could argue that Crikey sits in that category too. Maybe. Hey, I just send stories occasionally…

    And then there’s general news, where there’s many more competitors and where there are already outlets distributing this stuff for free. Will people be willing to pay for Rupert’s version of generic stories? He’d better be offering something really really special!

    @Sean Carmody: I’d missed Jason Calacanis’ piece. He’s got a point. Microsoft Bing could well pay Murdoch for exclusive indexing of News Corporation stories.

    But that comes back to the question of whether a Bing/News could offer something that’s sufficiently different from Google/Everybody to convince people to move.

    Wearing my small business IT hat, when I ask people what they want their web browser’s home page set to, the vast majority say “Google”. That’s what Microsoft and News Corp have to overcome.

  7. antonio

    Interesting conflation: Internet = Google? I guess it saves time.

  8. Stilgherrian

    No, Antonio, Internet != Google. But, the reality is that around 90% of people currently use Google to search for information, and when Mr Murdoch wants to talk about blocking aggregators and search engines he talks about blocking Google. He chose Google as the target of his angst, so that’s what we’re talking about.

  9. John Inglis

    http://www.org.nz is a pretty good homepage for IT people to leave on clients’ machines.

    It’s a pity (for Rupert) that Lachlan hasn’t really got the right stuff. Rupert needs to go home and look after the roses or something. Putting Lachy in charge would do to News what Rupert has done to quality journalism.

  10. Bullmore's Ghost

    Memo to Murdoch: I don’t read your newspapers now, so what you do with your “paywall” is on my IDGARA list.

  11. Keith is not my real name

    Crikey would be well served by having Bushfire Bill write a thing or three, paid or not.

  12. John Bennetts

    Bullmore’s Ghost said in several words what I could not improve on with any number.


  13. rogerl

    Murdoch’s posturing is like the owner of a theme park threatening to remove his attraction from a tourist map unless the map publisher gives him a cut of its profits. Utterly ludicrous (Mark Cuban’s counterpoint about Twitter’s role in news dissemination notwithstanding…).

  14. JeremyNY

    Of course, contrary to the blog above, Betsy Frank hasn’t worked for Viacom for four years – she moved over to Time Warner some time ago.

    Googlesourced blogging clearly has its limitations. We underappreciate primary reporting at our own peril.

  15. Stilgherrian

    @JeremyNY Betsy Frank did work for Viacom at the time she said what I cited. While if I’d had more time I might have done the “What is she doing now?” thing, what she said has value no matter where she might work today. Perhaps I should have dated the quote?

    I do hope you’re not going to get into that tedious “journalists versus bloggers” so-called debate again. They’re different processes of writing, people! Different, but both valid.

  16. Kirk Broadhurst

    I’m bepuzzled re: ‘Internet Overtakes Newspapers’ story.

    70% of people get most of their news from TV
    40% of people get most of their news from Internet
    35% of people get most of their news from newspaper

    Where do the other -45% of people get most of their news from? Am I missing something – surely you can only get ‘most’ of your news from one place in this survey?

  17. Tom McLoughlin

    Good one Stilg, only I just had to write to crikey editor about the legal concept of tortious interference in contractual relations, and via my dear pet slog/micro news blog.

    Like this: News Corp put up a preface page – all ye who enter here must tick terms and conditions box – you know the kind of thing. So then free of charge you go to precis of stories. Only not as a surfer but contractee, you promise not to google around paywall and they promise to let you in to the precis.

    So of course folks will cheat. But for how long until enforcement happens via say IP address or something. Secondly and more serious say for youse – anyone promoting google around paywall or similar behaviour calculated to frustrate contractual relations may well become acquainted with Mr Tort and Mr News Corp Lawyer. See what I mean?

  18. rodhurley

    Whenever I hear a story about Ruprecht Murcoch, I always dollop a fresh spoonful of internet on my plate by heading to utube and watching this Fry and Laurie sketch from a few years back…

    How right they were x

  19. rodhurley

    Whenever I hear a story about Ruprecht Murcoch, I always dollop a fresh spoonful of internet on my plate by heading to utube and watching this Fry and Laurie sketch from a few years back…


    How right they were x

  20. Stilgherrian

    @Kirk Broadhurst: The question asked in that Pew research was “Where do you get most of your national and international news?” I’m assuming (note the word!) people were allowed to choose multiple sources.

    @Tom McLoughlin: Licensing and such contractual arrangements are a common way of trying to get around this “problem” (as seen from the publisher’s viewpoint). It goes way back to Watt’s steam engine — which you couldn’t buy, but only lease. Nice work. This battle will be fought on many, many fronts.

  21. Venise Alstergren

    STILGHERRIAN: Very interesting article. Rupert Murdoch is showing his age when he carries on like this. One thing about walls of any sort has to be that one can fly over them.

    As an older person I’ve discovered I can live without all the publications that once seemed to be part of me. The thought of sitting in front of the tube to watch the news on Channel Two or SBS; after spending the day on-line has become anathema to me. Although I do watch the 7.30 report.

    Thanks Stilgherrian for an excellent comment.

  22. andy egg

    it would be fun if mr murdoch were to do this paywall thing, and we could sit back and watch his relevance & empire crumble before us. but i think he’s smarter than that.
    my guess is that he’ll have to go after, and hobble the ABC’s excellent online service first (and we’ve recently seen the first shots across the bow in that regard). then he’ll want to do a dirty deal with fairfax; for fairfax and news ltd to construct paywalls. repeat the process in each country. goodbye sites like crikey.
    or something like tom mcloughin suggests.
    but i don’t think he’ll be paywall stupid or lay down and retire from the bad fight.

  23. Kirk Broadhurst

    “goodbye sites like crikey.”

    Can you elaborate on this? I would expect that if mainstream news becomes a chargeable commodity then Crikey’s relative cost reduces significantly.

    At the moment I can read News for free and Crikey for whatever it costs.

    In the future I will be able to read News for whatever it costs and Crikey for whatever it costs.

    Surely the second scenario makes Crikey relatively more appealing? It’s not like News is an essential service that I am simply going to purchase by default, thereby reducing my disposable income. I will consider which news source to subscribe to.

  24. meski

    Dilbert puts the boot in today.

    h t t p : / / preview.tinyurl.com/ydx8zlf

    (remove the spaces)

  25. andy egg

    reply to kirk broadhurst: well if abc online news is hobbled, and the others put up paywalls, and murdoch can replicate this in england and u.s, then a site like crikey which mainly provides very well targeted links to other news servers will look very thin.
    sites like crikey are like the d.j’s of the internet. they only need pay a guy rundle or too, and a first dog to actually do anything original. i reckon murdoch would hate crikey with a passion.
    i read what i can on crikey for free, and wouldn’t bother otherwise. sorry crikey (not sorry to murdoch) but that’s the way it is. i pay too much for phones and broadband without paying for sites as well. much as i respect crikey’s selection and slant, i could always pick up stuff elsewhere with a little more searching.
    maybe what’s needed is something like music publishing, eg-apra; where internet providers have to pay a fee to a rights body, to cover the costs of their users looking at registered sites ?

  26. Sean Carmody

    @Andy Egg: while a lot of blogs may mainly provide “very well targeted links to other news servers”, that is not my experience of Crikey. Stilgherrian’s post here is a case in point. While there may be some integrated links as the web version of footnoted sources, the content is his own. The same is true of the vast bulk of Crikey’s content (even the bits that wind me up into a frothing-at-the-mouth rage). So, I struggle to see how News Corp’s idea of erecting a paywall is in any way bad news for Crikey.

    As for modelling a new institution on APRA (no slight on the banking prudential supervisor intended), I couldn’t imaging a more ostrich-head-in-the-sand response to the emergence of new technologies and their associated means of content-distribution.

  27. Kirk Broadhurst

    @Andy Egg – I agree with Sean. Crikey does link to other news sources occasionally, but the most of the quantity and quality comes from the in-house stories. I understand that these writers are not all on the payroll but instead paid per article – and that’s fine.

    Do you not need to be a subscriber to Crikey to comment on articles etc?

    It sounds like you don’t believe there is any value in being a Crikey subscriber anyway, so you are not the target market. But if your ‘free sources’ suddenly became pay-per-view, would you pay to read those sources, or would you pay Crikey?


https://www.crikey.com.au/2009/11/10/dear-rupert-this-is-how-the-internet-works-google-it/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

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