The debate over whether search engines are friend or foe to the newspaper industry continues to grow and become more complex.
Rupert Murdoch says he will really go ahead with his stated plans to remove his portfolio of publications from Google’s search index. Jonathan Miller, News Corp’s chief digital officer, told the Monaco Media Forum on Friday that the company would begin blocking Google’s search spiders within a few months. Miller said Google brings in an army of one-click visitors who are “the least valuable traffic to us…You can survive without it.” He also said Murdoch intends to lead the industry in the just-say-no campaign. A Google spokesman responded that the search engine sends about 100,000 clicks to news organizations every minute. TechCrunch estimates that Google drives about one quarter of the total traffic to The Wall Street Journal.
While there’s no doubt that Murdoch is serious about drawing a line in the sand on this issue, the decision to talk about it this far in advance indicates that this is a negotiating tactic. Much as Hearst and the New York Times Co. wrung concessions from unions by threatening to close the papers they own, Murdoch may be looking to extract some kind of licensing deal from Google in return for backing down.
The Journal and the Financial Times are the only two daily newspapers that are having any success with a paid subscription model because both provide information that subscribers see as essential to their business. Few other newspapers can make that claim, which is why paywalls have been so difficult to implement.
Miller’s comment about drive-by visitors is worth noting. Publishers and auditors tend to look at traffic as the ultimate metric of success, but there are different kinds of traffic. Sex and celebrities drive page views just as they sell newsstand copies, but that kind of traffic is undesirable to most advertisers and extremely hard to monetize. If Murdoch has decided that his core base of paying and print subscribers are sufficient to run the company, he may be choosing to press his advantage while he still has leverage. The Wall Street Journal was the only large US newspaper to show any growth in the recent Audit Bureau Of Circulation report and Murdoch may have decided that he doesn’t need the casual visitor in order to be successful.
The Bing Factor
Media entrepreneur Jason Calacanis thinks Murdoch wants to do a deal. He suggests that the publishing tycoon could strike an exclusivity agreement with Microsoft Bing. This would have the win-win effect of driving revenue from Microsoft’s deep pockets while also upping the ante in the search wars. It’s an intriguing idea, and few other companies have the throw weight to pull it off.
Bing appeals to news executives as a foil for Google. TechCrunch reported last week that Microsoft held a secret meeting with representatives of some of Europe’s largest newspapers to discuss throwing its weight behind ACAP, a protocol that provides a variety of access controls over content. TechCrunch says Microsoft told the European publishers that it’s ready to commit £100,000 to fund development of ACAP, which permits search engines, for example, to index the full content of an article while displaying only part of it to a casual visitor. The report speculates that Microsoft may be hoping to use publishers as allies in a flank attack on Google by striking deals that give Bing exclusive or semi-exclusive access to their content.
Bloom Fading from User-Generated Content Rose?
Is user generated content beginning to lose some of its shine? Current TV, the cable channel founded by former Vice President Al Gore is in the process of retooling its content model to emphasize acquired and compiled programming while cutting back on standalone viewer submissions. The company will lay off 80 people in the process. Current TV says that while it’s as gung ho as ever on user-generated content, it will shift to a style of programming that sounds more reminiscent of America’s Funniest Home Videos than full length amateur documentaries. Chief Operating Officer Joanna Drake Earl also said “viewer-created ad messages” have been a huge success, with viewers preferring them by a 9-1 margin and advertisers reporting higher recall rates.
The Current TV downsizing bookends a year that began with the shutdown of another prominent user generated media company, 8020 Media. That publisher had a brief moment in the spotlight when it produced two print magazines consisting entirely of submissions from readers. The experiment proved that user-generated content is no panacea, however. The task of sorting through thousands of articles and photographs and turning them into professional-looking copy was little more efficient than working with professional journalists. The advertising downturn didn’t help.
The troubles of these prominent experiments shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on citizen media. Scores of other ventures are ongoing and an increasing number of events are being reported first through channels like Twitter. The most viable models appear to be those that combine citizen reports with moderation by professional editors. Perhaps America’s Funniest Home Videos had this all figured out years ago.
If you’re following this Twitter thing that everyone is so excited about, you should check out a couple of new resources. Twitter Times is “a real-time personalized newspaper generated from your Twitter account” and it’s a pretty good metaphor for the way trust is awarded in the new world of democratized information. The service chooses news and blog posts mentioned in the Twitter streams of people you follow. The result is a digest that looks like a newspaper, only the stories are selected by your friends.
The algorithm behind Twitter Times is obscure and the site appears to be the work of a single Russian programmer named Maxim Grinev (right). While it doesn’t try to capture every recommendation from trusted sources, its constantly changing selection of content pretty much reflects the topics we are interested in. Users can share personalized home pages with each other and, of course, follow tweeters mentioned therein.
Also check out MuckRack.com. It’s a collection of jounalist Twitter feeds set up by a small group of people who call themselves Sawhorse Media. Journalists have to apply for inclusion and list a publication they are affiliated with before being added to the list. The qualification criteria seems a bit outdated to us in this age of citizen media, but the resulting list is a pretty good lineup of media pros. MuckRack is one of 16 identical sites that run the topical gamut from beauty to beer. It seems that lists are all the new rage on Twitter.
The wrangling over Philadelphia’s two bankrupt newspapers continues to grow more bizarre. A Federal district court judge last week ruled that the creditors trying to take control of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News must make a cash offer for the papers rather than simply taking control of them from the bankrupt Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC. The two parties have engaged in months of legal wrangling, even trading accusations of document theft. The new ruling opens the bidding to third parties as well as current ownership, with the courts apparently trying to steer the matter toward a resolution that keeps both newspapers operating.
Publishers can take heart in recent numbers from Scarborough Research that indicate that newspapers continue to be at the center of American reading habits. Writing on Media Post, Scarborough’s Bob Cohen cites the following 2009 stats:
- 74% of adults read a paper in print or online during the past week. Newspaper readership in some markets reach upwards of 90%;
- 19% visited a newspaper website during the past week;
- 70% of American adults read a printed newspaper during an average week.
Scarborough’s numbers jive with other data that indicates that newspaper readership — online and in print — continues at all-time highs. The problem is monetizing the low-value web traffic. Cohen suggests that publishers need to do a better job of selling the centrality of their products to the audience’s daily habits. “Aggressive self-promotion, while not a natural inclination of this culture, could go a long way in these unusual times,” he writes.
This entry was posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 9:22 am and is filed under Business News, BusinessModel, Circulation, Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, Murdoch, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.