I read a post the other day about how Microsoft is going to start paying Rupert Murdoch to deny Google the ability to index content sources like The Wall Street Journal. This is apparently the first step in Microsoft’s plan to convince a bunch of the world’s prominent content producers to wall off Google so that Google will, eventually and theoretically, be forced to start paying the content producers in order to index their content.
What the what?
From Murdoch’s perspective, I suppose this deal seems appealing because it promises a (temporary) influx of cash into the flailing newspaper industry. Microsoft’s motives are less clear, but I suspect it is connected to a deep seated desire to stick it to Google in any manner possible. Regardless, though, the whole scheme rests on a faith in the idea that this content is so good that people will want to find it and miss it when it’s gone. Even if they don’t know it’s there, because it’s not in Google.
I have to assume that there is some piece of the plan that makes it make sense that I’ve somehow missed — something like a metaplot where Microsoft brokers a deal with Johnson & Johnson that allows them to put skin-burrowing nanonrobots into baby shampoo so that — post 2010 — all new babies will grow up to develop an inexplicable affection for crappy unstable web browsers, large, heavy, and hideous CPUs. Oh, and The Wall Street Journal.
It must be infurating for Microsoft to not just be able to tell us, directly, what we should buy and what kind of media we should want to read. They must long for the good old days where they could just directly force us to buy things, without the infuriating run-around of search engines that allow us to cross-reference and compare things, for free, in half a second. Still, what is the plan going to be, once the generation of people who even know what paper newspapers ever were is dead, and the generation who already reads their news online (and which already generally ignores the WSJ because of its tendency to be fascist and greedy) forgets that the WSJ ever existed? Because it’s not in Google.
I already had some doubts about the credibility of the WSJ when they linked to me on their Loose Change blog. Because, really? You’re coming to an ex-academic in English literature for information on marketing? That’s the best you can do, Paper of Financial Record? But this is really beyond the pale, even if, as usual, I cannot articulate why nearly so well as can Seth Godin, whose pithy “Rupert Murdoch Has It Backwards” sums up all of my initial thought on this move in three sentences:
You don’t charge the search engines to send people to articles on your site, you pay them.
If you can’t make money from attention, you should do something else for a living. Charging money for attention gets you neither money nor attention.
Yeah. What he said.
I had been thinking that surely there must be some other explanation here, right? Surely there is some other thing afoot that I don’t understand because is this not the publisher of the newspaper to which business icons and moguls all over the country turn for information to help them . . . well, to help them run their businesses? The WSJ may not be in the business of advice, but they are certainly an authority in the field of business news; surely some business savoir-faire must have rubbed off over the years? I hypothesized to Mr. Right-Click that sure, people will want to read something like The Wall Street Journal, and they might even want to pay for it. But if you make finding it too much of a hassle, or make reading it too hard, or expensive, I’m not sure that it will work. And Mr. Right-Click said, “Yeah, just ask Howard Stern how well that worked out for him,” and I thought yeah! That’s exactly it! That’s exactly why it won’t work, because even when you are a fan of something in one medium, it takes SO MUCH to overcome the hassle and annoyance that following it to another medium, and adopting a new set of rules for it, requires. It takes a level of dedication and loyalty that the average audience member of mass media just doesn’t have.
When Howard Stern was on free radio, the most vocal and recognizable segment of his audience was comprised of the creepy zeros who would follow him around from venue to, talking about boobs and farts. But that wasn’t the majority of his audience: the majority of his audience was made up of relatively normal people who had to commute to work and enjoyed his show because of the release it provided. I even count myself among this group. And when he moved to satellite, I intended on following him there, too, as most of his audience probably did. But when it came down to it, what a hassle! And now it’s been what, four years? Does anybody even remember what Howard Stern’s voice sounds like?