Rupert Murdoch has this misguided notion that his web sites are being robbed by the likes of Google and Yahoo!. He contends, as well, that people like his content so much, that they would be willing to pay for it. The general consensus is that Mr. Murdoch is wrong. I think there is a lot of logic to what the general consensus thinks. But, I also think that the news maven may also be right. To a point, that is.
First, let’s look at why he is wrong. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! serve to drive people TO sites, not steal from them. I think Mr. Murdoch just does not understand this. He’s not alone here. There are governments, companies and individuals who think search engines are stealing content when, in fact, they drive hits. Why this is so difficult for them to understand is beyond me. I love the fact that my little corner of the Internet is often times on the first page of hits and, sometimes, is even the first hit. The more people who read my stuff, the better. I don’t make any money doing this, but the idea that I can help someone figure out something or even that people take the time to read what I write is very gratifying. If I were in this for money, I’d have lots of ads interspersed with my content. Thus, more search results driving people to my site means more eyes on those ads. Pretty simple.
Paying for Newscorp content is another thing. There isn’t one site that they produce that is compelling enough for me to want to pay for, not Fox News, Not the Wall Street Journal and not Sky News. Wall Street Journal is already a paid site, but the others are not. I do read both Sky and Fox quite a bit. But I also go to MSNBC, CNN and USA Today, among others. To get a balanced view of the news, one HAS to seek out many sources and NOT rely on just one. And, for the record, FOX News and MSNBC, while at opposite ends of the political spectrum, aren’t all that different in what they put on the sites. Often times, the stories are from AP News, which really blows my mind. At any rate, neither Fox nor Sky are worth paying for. Period.
Now, here’s where I think Murdoch is onto something. He has long complained that his content is being stolen. While I don’t think it is being outright stolen, there are sites that aggregate news. And when they do that, they often do not link back to the source and tend to scrape that content, reformat it and wrap it up on another site or in email or RSS feeds. When that happens, the original source is negated and any opportunity for revenue is gone. So, in that sense, Murdoch is correct and he should charge those sites for his content. When I repost news, I may re-word and interject my own thoughts and opinion, but I make an effort to link back to the original source as well as give credit. Many sites, however, do not do that and that is wrong.
I hope all this posturing is just that, posturing. I hope Mr. Murdoch does not actually follow through with his stated goal. But, if he does, I have to think that he will lose the majority of his audience. In fact, I would hope that a significant amount of that audience moves on to something else. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want Newscorp to wither away. No, I don’t want this approach to succeed. The Internet is a wealth of information and is readily available to everyone who can get online. If sites begin to charge for everything, then the usefulness of the Internet will be diminished since not everyone will be able to afford ten dollars here, five dollars there, twenty somewhere else. This all adds up and will force people to get selective. When that happens, they lose perspective and CHOICE. The ONLY way this can work is if those same bad aggregators, with the cooperation of the content providers, sold packages, like cable tv, that were affordable and also attractive for the content providers. Still not ideal, but better.
I would rather see more advertisements on sites than have them go paid. Once they start charging, I stop going. I refuse to pay for Fox News, especially when it is on cable for no additional charge to me. And I say this NOT because they are Fox News either. I’d feel the same if they were CNN, MSNBC or AP News. None of them are, to me, worth subscribing to. In fact, I cannot think of one site that I would be willing to pay to view. Not one. There are a few that I do pay for ADDITIONAL content, such as NASCAR, but they make it worth doing so. Paying to simply read content that I can get elsewhere is not compelling enough. I suspect that I am not the only one who feels this way. What do you think? Would you be willing to pay for content like a news site?