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12/2/2009
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Google Helps Publishers Erect Pay Walls

Continuing its stormy courtship of online news publishers, Google is offering news sites more control over how their content can be accessed.

Google's efforts to help media companies figure out a business model strike some industry observers as needlessly servile. In a blog post, John Battelle, a publishing industry veteran who chairs the Web 2.0 Summit and has written extensively about Google, characterizes Google's moves as appeasement and slams media companies for "asking Google to do the work you can and should own yourselves!"

Nonetheless, Google, perhaps to blunt criticism about its power or ambitions, insists on playing the Good Samaritan for news publishers.

Rather than being appreciative, however, some notable news publishers have gone out of their way to be seen biting the hand that feeds them.

Google, which refers over 20% of the visitor traffic to the Wall Street Journal and even more for other publications through Google Search and Google News, has become a major focus of complaints for its largess.

Reports suggest that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, which owns the Wall Street Journal, has been weighing the possibility of "de-indexing" news content from Google in conjunction with a possible deal with Microsoft.

Whether or not that's just a negotiation tactic to win a bailout from Google or the government, Google continues to extend a hand to help news publishers.

In May, when the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held hearings on the future of journalism, Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, suggested that craft stories like Wikipedia entries -- as constantly evolving documents rather than as a series of separate stories.

The news industry has yet to warm to that idea.

In response to a June solicitation from the the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) for ways to help publishers make money, Google in a letter promised "micropayments will be a payment vehicle available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year."

A Google spokesperson, however, subsequently said that such its micropayment plans were less concrete than its letter suggested.

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