- 23 Nov 09, 11:24 GMT
There's a fascinating story in this morning's edition of the Financial Times, which could signal a big shift in the balance of power between parts of the web and other parts of the media. The piece says that Microsoft has been in talks with the media giant News Corporation over a plan which could see the firm behind papers from the Wall Street Journal to the Sun being paid to stop Google searching its news websites.
The implication is that Microsoft's search engine Bing would be the place to go for news - and that Google would have to start paying if it wanted to retain that kind of content.
The FT's story comes a week or so after the Techcrunch UK blog reported that Microsoft had held talks with European publishers about what sounds like a similar plan to get them onside as part of a battle to make Bing a more attractive and lucrative place than Google for their content.
So is there any truth in either report? Well, a couple of days after the Techcrunch post, I was due to interview a senior executive from Bing, and Microsoft called to ask whether I would be asking about that story. When I said yes I would, they said he could not talk about it - and we therefore pulled out of the interview. Make of that what you will.
All of this comes against the background of Rupert Murdoch's campaign to start getting people to pay for the online content of his newspapers, a move fleshed out last week in a speech by the editor of the Times, James Harding.
But Mr Murdoch has also made it clear that Google - and indeed the BBC - are two major obstacles to this campaign, because they are both major ways to get free news. Meanwhile, Microsoft is anxious to do two things - to give Bing a big push, and to get in on Google's profit margins.
So it's understandable that News Corp and Microsoft might want to unite against the idea that news content on the internet should be free. But there are also plenty of reasons why Microsoft in particular would want to keep these negotiations as quiet as possible.
After all, if internet users get it into their heads that Bing's results are not as unbiased as Google's appear to be, because of an alliance with news providers, then they may well be less keen to switch to Microsoft's search engine.
Ah, but what if Bing were the only place to get quality news because such content had been shut out of Google? Well, that would be an interesting test of just how important news is to the mass of internet users. For we professional journalists, that could be a worrying moment - one where we find out the true market value of our content.
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