There’s a thought-provoking piece in The Register today about Rupert Murdoch’s analysis of Google’s relationship to his business. The nub of their – and Murdoch’s – gist is that Google only enjoys the market share it does because it indexes other people’s content better than other search engines do. Therefore, runs the argument, if those content providers start denying Google access to their content they kick away a pillar from under Google.
Let’s stop to analyse the picture as Murdoch paints it.
Google act as an intermediary between you and content. Like any middleman, they have a price. That price is the advertising that Google carry. Let’s say that a Murdoch paper is carrying breaking news about the latest eviction from I’m A Celebrity. It’s gossip round the water cooler in the office, so you hop onto Google and search for “I’m a Celebrity Eviction” looking for the scoop.
Firstly, Murdoch is now competing in a space against other content providers on a field he can’t control. He might have the best content, but Google’s algorithm puts him somewhere off the front page. It doesn’t matter how good his content is – there are at least 10 other guys in the queue ahead of him and they’ve got the visitors that he feels should rightly be his. Not only that, but there are 10 other sites advertising against the search term. The ad revenue in this market is finite – and Google have eaten most of it up before people have even got to The Sun. Result: less CPM for Murdoch.
That analysis is actually pretty much correct. Murdoch’s answer – stop Google spidering his content and make people pay for his content – is wrong.
Where his analysis is flawed is in his belief that people have that great an attachment to his brands. Actually, they just want the news. And realistically, the huge, huge majority of ‘news’ on traditional media outlets can be found in a million places. Most of it is syndicated from the wire services and rewritten in the house style. So really, I don’t care where the I’m A Celebrity gossip is coming from – I’ve got the news and I move on.
Murdoch is hoping that if content providers start to withdraw from Google, Google’s results will start to deteriorate and people will start going to The Sun or The Times directly instead – giving him control of the ad revenues.
This is Murdoch’s weak flank. He wants his brands to be the destination but if he denies his content to Google, people will start to identify with other brands instead. So long as Google is carrying the news from somewhere, then I’ll be satisfied. The same goes for in-depth journalism, opinion, video or photography. I can just get it somewhere else for free if Murdoch decides that I should pay for his content.
What does Murdoch need to do? He needs to purge his titles of the regurgitated press-release driven ‘news’ that fill so much of them. He needs to use the power of his brands to get exclusives that the blogosphere can’t and get first-mover advantage. He needs to sack the low-level content rewriters and hire a load of fact-checkers instead so that what he has is the most accurate, up-to-date information out there, and he needs to take the muzzle off his opinion writers so they don’t have to toe a party line.
Oh – and improving the user interaction side of the puzzle would be great too. Just as the BBC allow you to rearrange the front page to get content targeted to you, so should Murdoch’s papers.