Murdoch Wants A Google Rebellion
Dirk Smillie, 04.03.09, 05:40 PM EDT
The media mogul says Google is stealing from publishers. It could be the call to arms that newsrooms need.
Google ( GOOG – news – people ) sees it differently. They send more than 300 million clicks a month to newspaper Web sites, says a Google spokesperson. The search giant is in “full compliance” with copyright laws. “We show just enough information to make the user want to read a full story–the headlines, a line or two of text and links to the story’s Web site. That’s it.” For most links, if a reader wants to peruse an entire article, they have to click through to the newspaper’s Web site.
Maybe so. But Murdoch’s anger is understandable. Like the music industry, newspapers have watched new distribution channels change the economics of their business. Sites like Google, which don’t produce any journalism of their own, have made themselves into destinations for readers by successfully organizing the work of others and selling advertising against it. Meanwhile, the authors whither. In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson drew a bead on Murdoch’s beef: “Google devalues everything it touches,” he said. “It divides content quantitatively rather than qualitatively.”
Yet the relationship is more complex than that. Sites like WSJ.com rely on Google to send them readers, working hard to game how they appear on Google through the dark arts of search engine optimization. Newspapers use Google in other ways too. Users streaming to The Los Angeles Times Web site last year followed the path of Southern California wildfires using Google maps at the site. The maps were displayed alongside links to updated stories about fires.
“Google is not at fault,” says Gregory Rutchik, chairman of Beverly Hills-based The Arts and Technology Law Group. Rutchik says Murdoch’s comments may be a “first shot across Google’s bow.” Says Rutchik: “Murdoch wants to be paid for his newspaper assets. His statements may be a precursor to a lawsuit that would bring Google to the bargaining table to figure out just how to do that.”
Still, the episode is reminiscent of how publishers started talking about the Associated Press at this time last year, a squall that later grew into a storm (see “Down On The Wire”). Since then, a growing number of papers decided to do the once unthinkable: They’ve scaled back their AP subscriptions or ditched them altogether. The print death of major newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News, Christian Science Monitor and Seattle Post-Intelligencer may further radicalize cornered editors and publishers struggling to save their newsrooms.
For now, newspapers’ attempts at gaming Google remain “rogue efforts,” says Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor of the Dallas Morning News Online and a director of the Online News Association. “I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do.” Sounds like an idea Murdoch would endorse.