This New York Times story about Bing and News Corp. today kicked off what is sure to be a major narrative in Media Business news for the forseeable future.
Murdoch and News Corp want to de-index their content from Google’s search engine and sign an exclusive deal with Microsoft’s Bing to crawl their content. If it works it could enable a new revenue stream for the beleagured content industries and change the paradigm for monetizing news online.
Murdoch has been pretty much the sole voice of charging for access to content in the the internet age, erecting a subscription only wall for the Wall Street Journal online and promising to do the same with many of his other news organizations.
But he hasn’t done it yet. Not for a lack of ability, but because the internet news environement hasn’t been ready for it yet. Because doing so challenges the whole paradigm of the “free advertiser supported internet” to which we all, consciously or unconsciously, subscribe. Under this model you want your site crawled by as many searches as possible to drive eye-balls to drive advertising. Give it all away. More hits, more ads, more money. So restricting access doesn’t make sense.
The reason this is such a big deal story in media is that it represents the first real sign that the free-everything internet model could eventually be reined back in to a more restricted, more effectively monetized model. It’s like the difference between your major metropolitan newspaper and your local free weekly.
The free weekly gives it all away in the hope of reaching as many eyeballs as possible for its advertisers. But, as anyone who’s read a free weekly on the bus for fifteen minutes and then tosses it away knows, this model doesn’t lend itself to quality content. If we lived in a world of only free weeklies, we might have plenty of concert reviews, but who would watch over public life?
By showing a willingness to pay for access, Bing is buying itself some great publicity and some important corporate friends. Microsoft is a powerful enough entity with enough money behind it that it can actively shape the future of the internet with deals like this one. But will it work?
It’s not clear how the proposition of Bing paying to crawl News Corp’s sites will combine with Murdoch’s earlier stated plan of erecting pay walls for content. Is Murdoch abandoning that plan and passing the buck on paying from the reader to the search engine? Or is he proposing both in combination, creating one revenue stream from subscribers and one from search engines?