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Google’s “concession” to Murdoch

Posted by Graeme in Business & Investment,Internet at 10:12 pm on Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Everyone seems to be interpreting the changes made by Google News as a victory for Murdoch and others who are trying t extract payments from Google in return for making their content searchable through Google. I disagree, and think it is designed to make life more difficult for those putting up pay walls.

I am not really interested in the flaws in Murdoch’s arguments because they have been discussed elsewhere. Suffice to say that most websites spend money getting as well indexed by Google as possible, and that Murdoch’s own sites contain robots.txt files explicitly asking Google to index them.

I think Google is trying to do several things here. By offering an apparently big concession Google makes Murdoch look unreasonable for refusing to compromise. The average reader is likely to think “They still get all their stories listed on Google News, but people can only read five articles in the whole newspaper without paying”.

This essentially only affects a small number of people who were using Google’s First Click Free agreement with some publishers to read the whole thing for free by repeatedly going back to Google, searching for another story from the same site, and clicking through from Google News to get another “first click”. It works, but not many people can be bothered. It is not a concession that changes much.

It does not affect people who get links to stories in other ways (through email, twitter, instant messages etc.). They can still get the single first click they need to read one story linked to through Google News. In fact, I think this group is going to expand because of all the publicity that the existence of First Click Free has now received.

Now consider the behaviour of a typical regular Google News user. Is it that likely that they would click on five stories from a single source in a day? Google News has a lot of sources. I do not think that these users will be faced with the pay wall significantly more through the introduction of this mechanism — remember they already tend to see the pay walls if they click though to another story after the first free one.

When it does occur, what will most users reaction be? I think it will be to hit the back button on their browser and try the next news source in Google News. The net effect will be that free sources will gain a little audience share from paid sources.

There will be some people who will subscribe because there is a story they really want to see and there is no alternative news source, or because they keep hitting the pay wall on the same site. This is most likely with sites that have genuinely good quality unique content with their niche. I can see this working for the FT or the New Scientist (although the latter, strangely, does not appear to appear in Google News at all), but I cannot see it has having any effect on most of Murdoch’s papers which carry much the same news as everyone else.

Comments (2)


Comment by The Mad Hatter at 1:42 pm on 3 December 2009 at

Murdoch has an inflated view of his importance. His media properties are now unique, nor have they historically been effective (think of the run up to the Iraq war, where Murdoch towed the government line).

And quite frankly he’s either lying or delusional if he thinks that towing the government line contributes to democracy.

Comment by Graeme at 2:28 pm on 3 December 2009 at

The biggest problem is that politicians seem to share his view of his importance, and tow his line (at least as far as legislation and regulation concerning the media is concerned).

Sorry, comments are closed