Google Responds to Paid Content Issues from Murdoch, Publishers

Schmidt_thumb_blogFor the last couple weeks, CEO of News Corp. Rupert Murdoch has been at odds publicly with news aggregator websites “that collect and link to news content from other providers” (WSJ). According to Brent Kendall and Thomas Catan at the WSJ, Murdoch claims that these sites — he mainly means Google, but doesn’t actually name the search giant — are “reusing news articles published by others without bearing the costs.”

However, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington and other free search proponents argue, search aggregators actually help (not hurt) online news publishers like Fox News and WSJ (both owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.), becuase they help drive traffic to their sites. And traffic levels have a direct impact on ad revenues.

In his WSJ op-ed piece How Google Can Help Newspapers, Schmidt writes:

Google is a great source of promotion. We send online news publishers a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion extra visits from our other services, such as Web Search and iGoogle. That is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue—for free.

The issue Mudoch and others have is not necessarily that these news sharing sites exist; it’s that they distribute articles that aren’t always free. If a site wants to be indexed at all by Google, it has to allow Google’s crawlers to index every page within it. But for publishers who want to charge for content, there’s a challenge. As posted on the Google News blog: “Our crawlers can’t fill out a registration or payment form to see what’s behind a site’s paywall, but they need access to the information in order to index it.”

So, is Google posting all content on any news site they index, no matter what, even if it’s behind a registration form or paywall? Well, not exactly. In the same announcement on the Google News Blog, google offers publishers two solutions to this issue: a program called First Click Free, as well as the option to display “preview pages” of for-pay articles. You can learn about both these options here.

While this debate is far from over, as David Carr of the NYTimes’ Media Decoder blog reports, Google has appeared willing to compromise. Consequently, “the days when surfers could roam the Web in the belief that any and all information was theirs for the clicking may be numbered.”

SOURCE: “FTC to Examine Possible Support of News Organizations ” 12/02/09
SOURCE: “How Google Can Help Newspapers” 12/01/09
SOURCE: “Google and paid content” 12/01/09
photo courtesy of TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³, used under its Creative Commons license

About David Reich

David Reich is co-founder and CEO of SixEstate, blending a background in traditional marketing and public relations with over 5 years of experience managing hundreds of online marketing campaigns for all kinds of organizations -- from small businesses and nonprofits to public companies. David is responsible for keeping SixEstate and its clients at the forefront of the rapidly evolving search and content marketing landscape. Connect with David on Twitter, Google+ or via email.


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  1. David,

    I think you are skewing the case a bit in favor of Google. First, Google says it sends this wave of traffic to media sites “for free.” Yes, well, Google gets paid by advertisers to do the job. In some cases, Google displays the headlines, images, videos, and some text of stories in search results right next to advertising, and shares none of the ad revenue with the sites that produce the content on its search results pages.

    Secondly, it isn’t just Google’s “headlines plus” news results Murdoch is griping about. It’s that Google allows searchers to easily find Murdoch’s content on sites where it has been pirated. Google isn’t doing the pirating, but it is very efficiently pointing to pirated content. Is it legal for Google to point you to one place where you can buy an article legally and 9 places where you can read it illegally for free?

    There is also a “fair use” issue at stake here. People who run roughshod over copyright say “fair use” entitles them to cite a headline and a few words of text. But “fair use” is not based on the quantity of the material copied; it’s the purpose of the use that matters. If you use even one phrase from a copyrighted poem or song, you owe a royalty unless it is for educational or critical purposes. Headline writing is an art form and Google is appropriating that art, displaying it, and reaping ad revenue from it without permission and without compensating sources. You call this a “free speech” issue but it’s more of a “pay speech” issue: whether Google will be able to generate revenues from the writing and images of others without compensation.

    Google has made great efforts to get permission from content producers, to remove pirated content from YouTube, and to help content providers profit from their relationship with Google. The problem is, Google depends on indexing everything. So it has a “take content first and get permission or remove later” attitude that upsets people who think Google should buy content *before* using it.

    I think the “online community” is not giving Murdoch’s arguments a fair hearing.

    Author, “Complete Guide to Internet Publicity”
    Adjunct Professor, Internet Public Relations, Tulane University

  2. David Reich says:

    Thanks for the comment, Steve. All your points are well-taken. The only thing I would argue is that no one is forcing WSJ, FoxNews or any other News Corp publisher to index their websites on Google.

    For News Corp, there’s obviously a downside to having all of its content findable on Google. So why not un-index his sites completely? If Murdoch really wants, he can talk to his web team(s) and get all his sites removed from Google. I mean, he can probably call Eric Schmidt directly to take care of this :) Of course, if this were to happen, these sites would suffer from significant declines in traffic.

    In my opinion, in this search-driven, real-time news climate, Murdoch has more to gain from Google than he has to lose. However, if he disagrees on this, he can simply un-index all of his websites.

    David Reich
    SixEstate Communications