Rupert Murdoch does not like search engines and he’s setting out to do something about it.
As search engines like Google and Microsoft’s Bing have pulled increasing amounts of content into search results, they’ve become aggregators of content and not indices pointing visitors to the original sources. They’ve essentially become the distribution channel for this content.
While most site owners are thrilled to get good treatment from search engines, the current approach wreaks havoc with the business model of news outlets. Newspapers and magazines make money through two channels: subscription fees and advertising. Visitors who get enough information from search engines don’t click through to the source content, and this shortcuts both of these revenue streams. Instead, the only company making money on content is the search engines themselves.
This is where I agree with Murdoch. If I copy your content onto my sight and generate ad revenue from it — and you don’t —that’s a fundamental problem.
The veteran media mogul is striking back. In 2010, the online sites of Murdoch’s News Corporation publications will move to subscription models, effectively blocking content access from the content aggregators of the world.
Despite the ease of publishing information to the Web, there’s still a need for high quality professional journalism (you can judge which of Murdoch’s publications qualify). Unfortunately, there’s too much free content out there and one set of papers cannot change the game in any meaningful way.
Most people won’t pay for the majority of news content. News media need to find new business models and approaches to monetizing their assets. How might this work?
- Product placement: TV programming has bypassed the DVR revolution by pulling sponsored products directly into program content. Sponsored promotions could be pulled directly into the content.
Low potential: Explicit sponsorship violates the perception of objectivity that is necessary for news credibility.
- Change the writing style: The traditional inverted pyramid writing style puts a summary of information at the top of the article, making it easy for content aggregators to provide all that most news searchers need.
Moderate potential: Using a teaser approach that’s common in TV news (think of the zinger they throw out just before a commercial that grabs attention without providing any substance) would work well for this medium, but it would get annoying for those reading the content directly on the news site.
- Use more consumer-generated content: If all of this Web 2.0 stuff is so great, why not use more of it to reduce costs?
Moderate potential: There are certainly some examples of this that are working well, particularly reader photos and videos of breaking news events. Genuine reporting requires reporters with some accountability. Short of that, it’s usually op-ed.
I’m hardly the first one to think about this problem. Clay Shirky thinks newspapers are doomed, Ezra Klein thinks their salvation lies in finding niches to fill, particularly local news. John Morton proposes a dramatic approach – he suggests permitting an anti-trust exemption to allow newspapers to bargain collectively with Internet aggregators for syndication revenue.
Somehow, newspapers need to change or die. How do you think they could save themselves?