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Google and Murdoch - a divorce made in heaven?

It's about money, but not bribes from Bing

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But why bother de-indexing?

But it's not clear what Murdoch would gain by de-indexing from Google, either. Aside from any hypothetical costs associated with dilution of the subscriber base, it's not likely to be a whole lot more expensive for him to be present in Google than not. So is it just that he's pissed off with Google?

Well, if you'd spent a lifetime building a global publishing empire you'd have some reason to be ticked off with this bunch of smartarse parvenue space cadets too, but there are other possible reasons. Below you see a typical front page from the business section of Google News.

The WSJ forming the lead is by no means unusual, and WSJ stories account for a reasonable amount of the population of Google News' business section, along with Reuters, AP and Bloomberg. It's been pointed out that removing News Corp stories in general from Google wouldn't have a great impact, because there'd still be plenty of other sources, but maybe business is a little different. Losing the WSJ would make an impact, and if Bloomberg started to wonder what benefit it was getting too, it would possibly hurt.

Not that hurting Google is or should be anybody's objective here - the objectives, surely, are to stop Google hurting you, and to make some money from your readership. So think of that growth curve for Google News as a percentage of WSJ readership, and think about what Google's trying to do with Google News.

Yes yes, it doesn't make any money from it, but in that case why is it doing it? Google has not said that it has no intention of making money from it, ever, and it's reasonable to speculate that just as soon as it reaches sufficient mass as a news homepage (for other people's stuff), Google will be starting making money from it. Build your own newspaper from multiple sources? You can surely see that when Murdoch looks at the growth curve he doesn't think 'good', he thinks 'competitor.'

By now I expect you're wondering where the Borg fits in. What does Microsoft want, to kill Google? Well yes, but as we all know, under current circumstances that is an unrealistic ambition. And the Borg, while capable of many klutz-like actions, is not altogether stupid, and surely knows this.

So a more realistic ambition, then? Microsoft is spending shedloads of money on Bing, and is prepared to spend shedloads more. But it's not just going to throw it away (not deliberately, anyway) - the company needs to develop areas where Bing is better, easier to use, more appropriate, than Google, and it needs to start seeing some returns from these. It might be starting to get there with retail, and just maybe there's something it could start to do with news. But what?

Just giving publishers money to come to dump Google and come to Bing doesn't cut it here, because news isn't a huge draw for search, and the revenues publishers currently derive from search traffic are nothing worth writing home about. As Google and News Corp both tell us, in the world as it is currently constituted, nobody makes enough money from news and search to make it worth caring about.

What about actually helping publishers sell?

So here's the deal that News Corp and Microsoft should be talking about, and that Microsoft should be pitching to other publishers. At the moment, most publishers don't know much about the demographics of the traffic they're getting from search, so the revenues from it aren't worth spit. But if they did know a bit more, then the economics would start to change - search-derived traffic would start to have more value to them, and stop looking to them like an irrelevance, money hole, dangerous vampire.

Google and Microsoft both know a fair bit about the users of their search pages, but Google's primary advertising model, keyword and pay-per-click, is pretty much alien to the conventional publishing industry, which is much more about demographics, subject (not the same as keyword), and branding. Google has been learning a lot more about 'normal' advertising in recent years, but it's got a way to go still. And besides - is this a company likely to offer you some kind of joint venture networked advertising play, or is it more likely to come over all sanctimonious about not sharing data?

It will share data when it wants to, and struck a deal with TiVo to this effect earlier this week. But the point of that one is that TiVo gives its data to Google, which does seem to be the way the Chocolate Factory prefers it.

Microsoft, incidentally, has a great deal of experience in the advertising business, and as the underdog is a lot more likely to cut a deal that publishers would find acceptable, even attractive. But it wouldn't be money upfront for scalping Google. It would be revenue-based, aimed at starting to monetise search traffic for publishers (Google has already monetised this for itself, so has no reason to regard the system as broken). This wouldn't hurt Google's traffic, or help Bing's greatly, but that shouldn't be the point.

Basically, it's about money, not eyeballs. Landgrabs are so Web 1.0. ®

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