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Rory Cellan-Jones

Did Google just blink?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Dec 09, 09:13 GMT

In one corner the battle-hardened bruiser of the old media world, in the other the cocky young giant of the web. The fight between Rupert Murdoch and Google over how online journalism should be funded is quite a spectacle. Now it appears that Google may have blinked by making it just a tiny bit harder for readers to find a chink in newspaper paywalls.

Rupert MurdochRupert Murdoch has made clear his desire to see other papers in his worldwide stable follow the Wall Street Journal's lead in asking readers to pay for at least some of their online journalism. And he's also expressed, in forceful terms, his view that Google - and the BBC for that matter - are an obstacle to those plans because they provide a route to so much free news.

One particular bugbear for all newspapers is that a Google search allows readers access to their content even if it is behind a paywall. But now, in a move announced on the Google news blog, publishers will be given a little more control.

Readers arriving via Google will be able to click through to five stories a day on a paid site like that of the Financial Times but if they try a sixth time they will come up against a subscription page.

Now in truth, this is quite a minor concession. How many people do use Google to seek out a story from just one source rather than the whole web? I've just tried and it's quite hard work - you need to put "source: 'Financial Times'" after your search term to find just FT articles, for instance. (That said, I have now clicked through to six stories and so far the new policy doesn't seem to have been implemented.)

But this may still be a significant moment in the battle between old and new media. Rupert Murdoch has been mocked for attempting to put the genie of free web news back into the bottle - a hopeless mission according to the digital utopians. But by playing hardball, and apparently talking to Microsoft about a deal to make his content available only via the Bing search engine - he appears to have got the Google to blink. Round One to Murdoch then - but there's a long way to go in this contest.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What exactly does murdich think he is going to get out of this? I already try to avoid his news, this just makes it easier.

    Old man doesnt understand the modern communications, tries to shut it down. Where have we been through this recently again?

  • Comment number 2.

    What Google have done is pay lip service to Mr. Murdoch. Even with a 5 story limit, that is PER SERVICE, how many people will want to read more than 5 FT stories a day when the same thing will be reported elsewhere for free? Probably only those who find real benefit from the FT, those who will have already subscribed anyway.

    This really wont hinder users at all in finding out about a story. That said I would hope that when implimented Google actually flag the link in some way so that we can see that clicking it would send us to a subscription page rather thant he actual news so that w can avoid the wasted time and clicks.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just to clarify, Murdoch wants his news to be indexed by Google but then he'd like us to pay for it once we click through?
    And, if Google won't play then he'll ask Bing to step in.
    Interesting that Google should choose to be Murdoch's advertiser.
    So much for the moral high ground Google claim for search - their brand keeps sinking lower and gaining in hypocrisy.
    More competition in this area is desperately needed!

  • Comment number 4.

    An absolutely pointless move. How many web consumers of news stick to one news source? It's the sheer variety of news sources that makes the web/Google far more compelling than sticking to, say, the Financial Times or The Sun.

  • Comment number 5.

    Ah the joys of empires trying to control what has already changed. Sorry enough about file sharing.

    This isn't going to make a jot of difference though, as Rory said as of yet it hasn't even been put up. How will google implement this though, will it be via I.P. addresses? I've tricked a similar system before simply by changing browsers so if thats the case then any one desperate enough for Murdochs news could just do that.

  • Comment number 6.

    If I use the Google web search (or Yahoo/Bing for that matter) for “Financial Times” and get into it that way will I be able to browse as many stories as I want?
    At the moment most FT news content doesn’t seem to be blocked by a paywall.

    If I do hit a paywall barrier (e.g. Washington Post) then I just look for another free outlet for that story. There are very few news stories that are only reported by one outlet; if it’s at all significant then it’ll be reported by others too.

    There will be a small number of people (investors etc) willing to pay for FT content, but those that just browse news will just go elsewhere.

    As I’ve put before Reuters/China Daily/TimesofIndia/AlJazeera etc all carry similar (often agency) news reports; unless Murdoch buys up all the news outlets there will be free alternatives.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm not sure in what way the BBC's news website is considered to be 'free' - the licence fee is £142.50. It may be that people outside the UK don't pay it - but that still leaves the best part of 60-odd million people who do.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am unconvinced that there is huge demand to read News International's content on-line. Nor do I believe there is currently an adequate means of paying for content accessed. Subscriptions will be avoided by the majority of news readers and, as yet, there is no effective way of making micro-payments of a few pence to access a single fascinating story.
    Meanwhile, the BBC remains the elephant in the room. Whilst it provides us with it's almost uniformly excellent free news coverage, what is the attraction of the alternatives? With on-line ad revenues paying peanuts (to maintain the elephant theme), I think we are seeing the death throes of a dinosaur as Murdoch's business model bites the dust.
    Not the end for printed newspapers though, those seem long since to have abandoned breaking news to TV and the internet, in favour of comment and gossip, and for that, the public's appetite seems insatiable.

  • Comment number 9.

    Correction to my earlier comment - on reflection, nowhere near 60 million people can be paying the licence fee. Nevertheless, we must be talking millions.

  • Comment number 10.

    Simple. Hit a pay-wall = find alternative source for the story. No-one who seriously values proper standards of journalism or impartiality will be interested in News International content anyway.

    If Murdoch is so intent on paid-for content, will he therefore commit that all access from News International offices to free or user-contributed informational sites such as Wikipedia will be blocked? Wouldn't want News International staff getting access without paying, would we? Pay-walls can work both ways, Rupe.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well if Google are willing to do this for business, I think it only fair that they create a simple and easy way for me to exclude companies from my Google search. If they want to stop me from searching their content, I want the right to be able to exclude them from appearing in my results also. Call it Google Company Blocker. I just type in the name of a company, and any business connected to them is instantly excluded from my searches.

    How I would love to be able to set my Google account to search for anything EXCEPT News Corporations gossip mongering and lies wrapped up as journalism.

  • Comment number 12.

    Google hasn't blinked. It's doing what it's always done, which is making its site attractive to content publishers. See Danny Sullivan's article 'Would Someone Please Explain To News Corp How Google Works?' http://preview.tinyurl.com/howgoog Rupert believes in deregulated markets, and Google can prove it's listening to its customers - Google win.

  • Comment number 13.

    Sounds like an excellent plan to me - over time people will stop linking to News International stories (there'll be no point), so their Google Ranking will go down and NI's sites will eventually drop off the radar entirely.

    Maybe a new Google preference 'exclude paywall sites' would be useful.

    The irony is that there's been an HTTP header for 'Payment Required' since 1997 (status code 402, if you're interested - http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2068.txt%29.

  • Comment number 14.

    As much as I dislike Murdoch, he's only doing what has been the norm in the real world - getting paid for a service he (or rather, his staff) provides.

    Web advertising revenues are nowhere near enough to sustain news websites. If you want it, you're going to have to pay for it. If you pay the licence fee you already pay for this website. Why not pay for others too?

    Also, bear in mind a lot of content on the BBC has (as is common within the media) been sourced from other news outlets. As a result, if those sources (not just News International but all other papers) wither away due to a lack of income, so does a lot of base material (if not whole stories) will not be covered anywhere.

    As for being listed on Google, but still erecting a paywall - so what? Books on Amazon are listed on Google, but you don't complain when you have to buy it before you read it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Large Isp's all have a news page providing all in service. It's the wrong tack I think to compete now you have to be an isp and give journalists a platform to publish on.

    We are paying for news through subscription fees to cable and sattelite already plus in a uk the still anachronistic license fee. But I don't want to give that up to hand a monopoly to someone else.

    People hosting servers and sites are the ones coining it in an you're just going to need a many feathered hat to succeed in life. Journalism isn't under threat, the printing press is but there is a role for every technology in a proper context. I can live with industries contracting and expanding.

    But I'm not just handing stuff to people on a silver platter if I can help it I'm going to be every bit as miserly as any corporate exec. and I don't think anyone can stand against the argument that, if you do not wish to publish news for 'free' on the internet then don't publish anything at all.

    Most of it is duplication anyway much as the existing news channels duplicate one another. The benefit of switching to another channel is that you can enjoy the novelty of seeing news in a country you don't live in.

  • Comment number 16.

    A small step for Google, but a giant leap for the news business! Now, all institutions and individuals interested in plurality and quality in news reporting, must rally to the support of Murdoch.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch, and free news is just not feasible, in the long run. Somebody has to pay the wage of the journalist staff researching the news source and finding the news stories, in the first place. Most news stories circulating, have been found by a newspaper journalist. In the classic news business model, both readers and advertisers paid the wages of journalists via a newspaper. When other media, i e other newspapers, public radio and TV, news agencies etc picked up our story, it was to our advantage. In a world of news moving more slowly, the paper paying for the news gathering enjoyed the role as a news leader, for several hours. The news leaders had a premium of more readers and more ad revenue, if they were able to establish a reputation for serious, brave and professional reporting.

    Today, newspapers still pay all the costs for almost all the news reporting. But others pick up our news immediately, and distribute them almost without costs. Accordingly, we, the newspapers, both lose readers, payment from readers and ad revenue. Some survive for a while, cutting costs like hell, other newspapers are dead already.

    So how, in the future, will we continue to be well informed?

  • Comment number 17.

    As i'm sure others have said, no big deal. If he doesn't want google to link to his sites, then he can block with a robots.txt file anyway. But he DOES want his site linked to.... or off the search rankings and out of business it'll go. So, there's this bizarre middle ground, which does neither. So it'll make no difference, as he's not going to be blocking anyone.

    Actually, one benefit for google here, is that other smaller search engines may be expected to follow suit. Not that this is likely to be an expensive thing to do (with cookies i'd guess keeping count how many times a site is visited).

  • Comment number 18.

    @14

    Nice way of comparing chalk and cheese. If I want to read a particular book its about a particular subject. The news is the news, and is covered by multiple companies, from multiple angles.

    There will always be people out there doing news for free, that is advertising supported, and of a better quality than News International can do. If they want to force themselves into being obsolete thats up to them.

  • Comment number 19.

    Clever move by Google as it makes people who understand little about how the internet works believe that they are making a concession. Of course they are not. As others have noted, people can get their news from many different sources. Furthermore, if people stop linking to News Corp sites the ranking will go down so nobody will look at their news (and more adverts).

    In addition, most internet users are savvy enough to know that after five clicks all they need to do is close the browser, delete the cookies and start again. Easy.

    Having said that I do feel for media companies, and I do worry about the future on news in general. News gathering and distribution does cost money. If we gradually lose independent news sources we will increasingly rely in government sources: bad news for democracy, or have our news dumbed down to new levels. So let's hope that News Corp and others can find a profitable model that works for them and us in this difficult times of change.

  • Comment number 20.

    A dinosaur thrashing around like the music industry. Murdock will lose out by charging. People reference newspaper articles on line to each other on messageboards or even the less good blog systems. People will just quote the bit they want, and the newspaper site will lose the visits, who would see their adverts. The need is to pay journalists less, cut costs, it is going to have to be a low value job. Not any problem. I doubt many who buy a paper actually are the same as those seeing it on the web. Papers are used to read on trains and such like, a habit few will break just because they can see it on the web. Most web users for news go via the BBC, and never buy a paper anyway. Only occasionally going to newspaper sites.

  • Comment number 21.

    Quick note: you don't have to pay a license fee to access BBC news. You do if you want to watch it live on the telly, but iPlayer, the news website, and even that old anachronism the radio are all available regardless of whether you pay a license fee or not. They're just covered by the fact everyone else is willing to pay.

  • Comment number 22.

    I only ever use news.bbc for my news anyway, but this said, if everything in the world becomes free on the web.. particularly music, films and news content.. how will it get paid for. surely lack of competition will not help help impartiality or quality of product?

    so if Murdoch doesnt get paid for his news, he'll eventually stop doing it. my mind is boggling here, help me out guys!!

  • Comment number 23.

    @18 It was more an analogy of paying for a service/product.

    Also this is affecting all news websites - not just News International. I assure you all newspapers will be watching Murdoch's experiment closely. Web advertising revenues don't generate enough to pay for themselves - I know, I work for one which is relatively successful, but still relies on the (much, much larger) income from the print title to survive.

    You may be happy not to read News International websites, but what when those you do read start charging? You either pay for it or you don't get it. Just like any other service/product.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think that although there are concerns about Media companies not making enough money and not being sustainable with the current model, I also think that this is definately not going to work out well for News International and any other company that follows suit.

    There are very few companies that I would pay for their news coverage and even less that I would subscribe to. Having said that, I would only do that if there was a real lack of alternatives.

    Unfortunatly for companies like News international there are other news aggregators out there that are even more specialised than google. They are more community based (Reddit is my choice) and are allowing people to choose their news based on opinions of like minded people. None of these sites are perfect but I find myself starting there when I want to see what is going on in the world.

    Don't worry though Rupert there is always Myspace.

  • Comment number 25.

    The Huffington Post founder has made some good points in what she sees as a contest between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. She doesn’t see this as being just about Newscorp. and Google.

    “Any site can shut down the indexing of its content by Google any time it wants with a simple 'disallow' in its robots.txt file. But be careful what you wish for because as soon as you do that, and start denying your content to other sites that aggregate and link back to the original source, you stand to lose a large part of your traffic overnight.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/dec/01/arianna-huffington-murdoch-ftc
    In Full:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/journalism-2009-desperate_b_374642.html

  • Comment number 26.

    Typical Murdoch - a free source of news is an "obstacle" to him making money. This is the problem I have with modern day capitalism. A total free market should work so that competitors try to make their product or service better, whereas so often with the likes of Murdoch, Tesco etc its all about getting rid of the competition.

  • Comment number 27.

    For a while I have been unhappy about googles attempts to monitor my web activities and advise me according to their preference. This kowtow to Murdoch is just enough to go looking else where. As long as the BBC exists Murdoch will struggle, but the last thing I will countenance is a search engine that does his bidding.

  • Comment number 28.

    Firstly, ft.com, while a good example of a premium tiered access site, isn't part of the Murdoch empire. What amazes me is that ft.com, after your "free" 2 views per month, blocks further reads when linked from the home page, but doesn't enforce this when you follow a link from google - given how professional their site is, why do they not check for this no matter where you link from? It's bizarre. And Old Media might also want to have a look at Google Chrome incognito mode which really does allow you to access as much content as you want since it destroys tracking cookies after each use.

  • Comment number 29.

    This 'move' is just an adjustment to an existing technique that Google permitted. "First click Free" has been around since at least 2007.

    (and Google doesn't really do anything other than not treat it as "cloaking" of a web site: it's all in the control of the site that holds the content.)

  • Comment number 30.

    Personally speaking I have only used Google to search for news on a very small number of times. My sourse of news si to come to the BBC News site. It is 'free' - as one poster pointed out of course UK licence payers support it, but it is a valuable resource.

    Sure there are times where there are some editorial mistakes but ont he whole I trust it and find the bredth of articles make for enjoyable reading.

    I also have my homepage set to Yahoo. I oddly though never use Yahoo for search. It does however give me a glimse of the latest stories from the national news papers and ITN. But you know, when you click to see what the Telegraph is saying about a story what with the adverts dotted about the place, the odd annoying 'flash advert' that will pop up and have to be closed to get it out of the way from the article it just gets on my nerves. I give up.

    Perhaps many do this, and that is why advert based revenues for news sites has been found to be a lost cause. Would I pay for a site to deliver quality content, with no adverts? Truth be told no. I would just come back to the BBC.

    There are many, many people all over the world who see the BBC news service as the benchmark. I think if anything it is Ameircan readers who will be targeted to, and willing also to pay for news content. It is alrady more common for American news papers to charge for accsess, or for example if you subscrbe to the paper copy delivered, your get free use of the site. The site will show just what the paper copy does, only with the ability to be constantly updated.

    Where I think would get silly is if local papers joined in and wanted you to pay for a site to read about what is going on in the samll town you live in. People just would not do this I am sure.

  • Comment number 31.

    @ 21: Good point made. But then also one must remember that the BBC IS a public service, funded by the licence payers. All those who may be agaisnt it, want to see the Licence fee abolished..I wonder how would feel when this site would be full of adverts, or to get full content need to pay? Where their local BBC radio stations stopped or merged to cover a great but less local area supported by commercials..And where iPlayer would charge for content.

    I think we all take a lot for granted and want it at the cheapest price (or free) but everything costs, and everything must be financed somehow. We would all soon miss it and have a big wake up call if such things we take fro granted begun to dissapear.

  • Comment number 32.

    Again people seem to be missing the point. You can huff and say "Those grapes are sour anyway" all you want, but the real issue is that when other news sources see Murdoch doing this they'll realise that they can now jump on the bandwagon. If one company charges for access they will be the pariah. However once one person is bold enough to make the jump, others know that if they all make the jump in unison the status quo is maintained only it is now a status quo you need to pay for, where it was previously free.

    So yeah....shun FT etc all you want, but watch as other news sources join in and eventually no matter what site you use, it won't be free.

  • Comment number 33.

    No Aidy, the reason people doubt it will work is because it's all been tried before. You think this is the first time newspapers have tried to charge for content?

    These charging mechanisms only ever work where it's "worth it" - financial pages and peer reviewed journals. This is because people are willing to accept that you don't get good quality and trusted sources for nothing.

    When it's general news and gossip, these simply aren't protected - anyone can copy-and-paste them from dozens of different news sites, providing links to each, re-writing a few lines, and avoid copyright issues EASILY.

  • Comment number 34.

    This works only for specialist content. Stuff from the FT and The Economist for instance are not easily duplicated or rewritten. However who can afford to subscribe to every website they obtain news from?

  • Comment number 35.

    NI planning to charge for their on-line content has no effect on me as, not being a London cabbie, a fascist, a racist or a sheep, I have never had a reason to spend my money on their products.

    And so long as there's the licence fee and a search engine then I doubt I'd ever be affected by such a move.

  • Comment number 36.

    a Google search allows readers access to their content even if it is behind a paywall

    That's obviously untrue. It's entirely in the hands of the newspaper how they wish to respond to a request to serve up a page - they can do, not do it, or redirect to a paywall. Google does not have magic security busting properties. If a page can be viewed for free it's because the provider has chosen to make it available that way.

  • Comment number 37.

    We only read it online because its free. Make us pay for it and we won't read it.

    Simple

  • Comment number 38.

    @33 Calaba

    "You think this is the first time newspapers have tried to charge for content?"

    Well The Sun manage to take 30p off me most days.

    I suppose we're just seeing another fallout of internet idioms where people think everything should be given to them for free and everyone should work for free....but not them.

  • Comment number 39.

    Maybe they have, but I don't think it really matters.

    The big issue is that now it is clear exactly why James Murdoch launched his attackon the BBC in Edinburgh earlier in the year. NewsCorp know they have problem because, at least in the UK, the BBC has pledged not to charge for content. This is the elephant in the room becasue Google are quite free to spider that (overseas URL wrangling notwithstanding).

    People argue that people shouldn't expect something for nothing. Well the operattion is pretty much the same with commercial TV. The content is free to air and the consumer pays indirectly through advertising. In that sense the web is hardly any different.

    you also have to ask: just how compelling is NewsCorp's content anyway? You couldn't pay me to sit through Glenn Beck on a regular basis or to read his "newspapers". So much for profit being the only true engine of quality, eh? The worry for Murdoch may be that if he does introduce more subscription based services, he may find few of them are as successful at hoovering up cash as Sky. There are many like me who would (and do) actively boycott such sources.

  • Comment number 40.

    Google did blink, for the moment....
    they say lose a battle, win the war!
    News corp are really on a losing streak now

  • Comment number 41.

    Quite a few media industry people commenting on this article, defending their industry and possibly jobs.
    What? No Forum on a News site to charge people to discuss this topic?

    Most your arguments have some validity but are simply dead in the water, give it up....the world has moved on, and your industry milked us while it could. Now we have broken free of the over priced newspapers cycle.

    As for the argument that the quality reporting will be lost? Are you kidding me? It was lost around 20 years ago, it was a inside job, so dont blame us for the poor quality content and reporting of your industry, most of the time your articles have nothing to do with your attention seeking headlines.

    Murdoch will fight this til death and i expect he will be very near to success, but his only hope is to work on new generations in convincing them that its normal to pay for articles, the rest of us know better.

    As for google and BING.....murdoch basically seems to be asking them to fold to the corporate thieves and bend searches in certain favours or away from certain favours....watch this space, if it happens i for one will be looking for a new search engine...

    anyone know a good one?

    As for the argument that the media industry cant cope on advertising revenue aloe - the evening std has recently gone free so it can compete head on with free newspaper competitors....they would not have made this bold move if it meant a decrease of income!

    The result is of course newspaper full of BS advertising which drives us even more to seeking good quality free news online which doesnt have advertising....oh by the way Mozilla ABP is excellent,ads are getting out of hand online too now but this helps alot i recommend this mozilla add-on to everyone - will murdoch attack mozilla next for looking after their user base?

    Oh and dont worry the likes of News agencies like Reuters are doing fine......!!

  • Comment number 42.

    The bottom line to this issue is that the people creating or providing content want to be paid for it, and that includes the BBC. It's a question of who pays, and how they pay. In the case of the BBC it's the TV license payer, as someone has already reminded us above. Other news content providers do not have that luxury of guaranteed income from a form of 'tax'. They had put their bets on advertising for income, but falling revenues from that source is forcing them to consider other sources, such as consumers paying for it. Actually, some people may have noticed that the BBC website carries adverts, if accessed from outside the UK (or even with an external web-proxy).

    Google is not a charity organisation. They want to dominate our computer desktops as much as Murdock wants to dominate our news sources. Both are after our attention and ultimately our money, and no one should make a mistake about that.

    There is nothing wrong with what Murdoch is trying to do, just that he's up against a very popular trend on the one hand (Google), and the BBC on the other (which is largely funded by the UK public).

  • Comment number 43.

    Even if this suceeds a range of other sites will pop up to take there place.

    Ok, so Murdoch wants to charge people to access news articles what else is he going to offer??? You can't just expect Murdoch to charge to read online, i'd rather just buy the daily newspapers!!!!

  • Comment number 44.

    Mr Murdoch feeling hard done by? Aww diddums. And after all the selfless acts of kindness shown by News International in the past!!

    If his news sites can't support themselves then that is the problem. He can try a new business model and maybe it will work (some suckers always end up paying).

    I know plenty of people who buy the Times just to look important because other people do, but will they also then sign up to use a news service? People won't be able to see that folded up under their arm on the tube!

 

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