I was quick to post my criticisms yesterday to Rupert Murdoch’s apparent decision to delist his media sites from Google. Too quick it seems, as in my rush I neglected to consider a possible counter argument, blogged here by Mark Cuban.
The core of Cuban’s post appears to be that Murdoch is right because Twitter and Facebook are on their way to eclipsing Google as the primary content gateways and that these sites pose no threat to publishers. I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong.
Departing once again from my rule to never disagree with billionaires, here is what I think is right and wrong with this argument:
- Cuban: “This is not 1999, nor is it 2004, nor is it 2006, nor is it 2008. The calendar is about to turn to 2010. What worked and made sense 3,5 and 10 years ago, no longer does.”
o Me: Yes it is 2009, not 1999, 2004 2006 or 2008 - but in 2009 the Wall Street Journal get’s about 25% of its traffic from Google and 10-15% of its revenue as a result.
- Cuban: “TWITTER IS SURPASSING GOOGLE as a destination for finding information on breaking and recent news of all types.”
o Me: Surpassing? Maybe. Actually, let’s just say that’s definitely true. Surpassing isn’t the same as surpassed. Look at the numbers I point out above. That’s all still true. The numbers aren’t likely to change dramatically in the short term. They may change eventually and perhaps sooner then I think, but not tomorrow and probably not within the next 12 months.
- Cuban: “Whats more, TWITTER POSSES NO THREAT to any destination news site.”
o Me: No, you can’t fit a whole news story in 140 characters. You know what you can fit? News. Some people will want the whole story, some won’t. On the other hand it’s worth bearing in mind that newspapers aren’t just about breaking and recent news. Journalism, especially the kind that you can get at the Wall Street Journal and only a few other destinations, is bigger than that.
- Cuban: “if I trust a newspaper, tv or any brand, I can follow it on twitter and expect the news to come to me.”
o Me: Totally agree, good point . . . as long as you know who you want to follow. If you don’t you know what would be really helpful in finding out? Google.
- Cuban: “Having to search for and find news in search engines is so 2008.”
o Me: And for 25% of the Wall Street Journal’s visitors, so 2009.
- Cuban: “Nor am I saying that Google is toast and has no role. Non real time feed users will continue to source news through Google. I just see that as a declining number in an era where much of our first crack at news is via our phone. But, perfect or not, the bottom line is that in this new era of twitter, things have changed.”
o Me: I’ve been pretty critical but actually, I think this is right - or will be right. I do think more and more content discovery will happen outside of Google and Google News. I also think it’s quite possible that the competition could eclipse Google in this area. Here’s where I get off the bus, however: why delist? It’s just . . . unnecessary. You want to charge for your content? Charge. Why make it impossible to find through Internet users’ most popular form of discovery: search?
I make it a rule not to disagree with billionaires but Rupert Murdoch’s apparent plan to make News Corp sites invisible to search engines is mystifying.
The media industry isn’t dying; it’s changing, and while it undergoes this metamorphosis there will continue to be a lot of hand wringing, a lot of failed experiments and a lot of creative destruction. This is a bad thing, obviously, for those employees and companies that are left out in the cold, but journalism will survive and professional news gatherers will continue to be paid - even if we don’t precisely know how (though I suspect some pay walls will work).
So things are changing and we don’t know who’s going to end up on top. It’s only natural that publishers would experiment and it’s absolutely natural that they would turn their ire on search engines (Google, principally) that seem to be responsible for putting their business in jeopardy.
But making your content invisible to search engines? Murdoch rationalizes this by saying: “What’s the point of having someone coming occasionally?” and “If they’re just search people… They don’t suddenly become loyal readers.”
Why indeed? And while we’re at it, why sell first year subscriptions at deep discounts? Why sell single issues at newsstands or in bookstores?
Perhaps the misunderstanding stems from the use of the phrase “search people” as if we were a class or a generation. Search people aren’t a slice of the population or a demographic, they’re people, as in: people-people, as in: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and the investment banker, the lawyer, and the day trader.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, search engines are everyone’s gateway to the Internet making them, by default, the gateway to the content, all the content, found therein. To be sure, today’s dedicated readers will probably continue to be dedicated readers - those that currently pay, anyway - but what about the (hoped-for) readers of tomorrow? They’re to become dedicated readers how?
That’s only part of the problem, however. The larger issue is one of relevance. Its one thing to institute a pay wall, readers can decide based on headlines, first paragraphs or third party commentary whether an article is worth a micropayment. But removing something from search engines is, almost by definition, synonymous with removing it from the Internet itself. How can you be part of a discussion, part of a community of interest if no one can find you or if the barriers to interacting with you are so cumbersome (Murdoch also seems to indicate a coming wave of fair use lawsuits targeting, presumably, blogs)?
Murdoch wants his readers on his terms but the Internet doesn’t work that way. News - but not journalism - is basically free and plentiful. Journalism has a low, and lowering, barrier to entry. Asking people to pay for your content, find your content without the benefit of search engines, and continue to read your content as it stands roped off from the rest of community is asking too much.
Or so I believe. I could be wrong. I’m no billionaire. Maybe rendering the Wall Street Journal obsolete is part of some master plan to reinvent the media business through Seppuku.
Ogilvy MediaXchange: Pitching the Right Reporter