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Microsoft, News Corporation Plan Foot-Shooting

Microsoft is reportedly discussing a deal that would see News Corporation remove its Web sites, such as the Wall Street Journal, from Google's index.
Microsoft is reportedly discussing a deal that would see News Corporation remove its Web sites, such as the Wall Street Journal, from Google's index.So says the Financial Times.

The effect "de-indexing" would be that News Corporation content would not be available via Google Search or Google News. It would be available to Bing users, however.

Supposedly, News Corporation sees the arrangement as a way to advance its effort to charge for news content and Microsoft sees the plan as a way to hit Google's bottom line.

Just how the accounting works in such a scenario isn't entirely clear. The deal looks like a sure-fire money loser to me, and to others as well.

Over at metric firm Hitwise, Bill Tancer observes, "As of last week, WSJ.com's referred and non-referred traffic from Google and Google News amounted to 15.3% and 11.0% respectively. Analyzing Google search terms driving traffic to the Journal, the top 100 terms accounted for over 21.6% of all Google search traffic to WSJ.com. Of that 21.6%, 13.4% were navigational or brand searches (e.g. "Wall Street Journal," "WSJ," "WSJ.com" etc...). Even if Murdoch decides to block Google, these navigational search queries will most likely remain intact."

Tancer concludes, "As print continues to hemorrhage readership, could blocking your most significant traffic source be a wise choice?"

I don't know how to make paid content work for mainstream news. I suspect it can't be done, mainly because most of the news is not really worth paying for.

The situation is similar to the cable industry's resistance of a la carte cable. Cable companies prefer selling bundles of channels because they know most of the channels, if sold individually, wouldn't bring in enough revenue.

There's a subset of people who will pay for news -- financial traders -- but that's a niche vertical, served by Bloomberg, News Corp's Dow Jones, Reuters, and the like.

For more general audiences, even high-quality business reporting from the Wall Street Journal isn't critical to most businesses.

If the U.S. press starts gating a substantial amount of content, just watch how quickly it gets copied and published in markets with low labor costs.

And Microsoft should pay more attention to improving Bing than to hurting Google.