Once News Corps' Web Sites go behind a paywall, chief executive Rupert Murdoch suggested that they'll disappear from searches on Google and other engines.
Murdoch was responding to Sky News political editor David Speers, who asked why News Corp. hasn't blocked search engines from indexing sites. "Well, I think we will, but that's when we start charging," Murdoch said.
In August, Murdoch said that all News Corp. Web sites will go behind a paywall by next summer, a bold move as many Web sites have abandoned their unsuccessful paid subscription strategies, relying on eyeballs and advertising revenue instead.
I'm not sure Murdoch fully understood Speers' question about blocking search engines, because he then adds "We do it already with the Wall Street Journal. We have a wall, but it's not right to the ceiling." Many reports on Murdoch's comments suggest that Murdoch will block search engines entirely, but that's not the case with the Wall Street Journal. You can still find occasional stories by searching Google News.
Regardless of what Murdoch meant, the bigger point remains that he's not interested in readers who find News Corp. articles through search engines. "Who knows who they are or where they are," Murdoch said, referring to search-driven visitors, "and they don't suddenly become loyal readers of our content."
Murdoch's philosophy of getting money from loyal readers is still a huge gamble, because there's no guarantee those readers will stick around once they're forced to pay. Think of it this way: If we've been friends for five years, and I suddenly tell you that our friendship requires a lot of work on my end, and that I'll need money to keep it going, will you happily pony it up because you value what I provide, or will you look for someone new?
You might argue that the news business is not a two-way street, but increasingly, it is. Content isn't top-down like it used to be; it's an ongoing discussion amongst readers and writers, and between different Web sites. Because, as Murdoch says in the interview, "there are no Web sites . . . making any serious money," he's not interested in being part of the discussion.
Murdoch's vision of online news is draconian: He believes News Corp. can profit through the print mentality of getting subscribers to read every day and pay for the privilege. That vision may not need the services of search engines, but it could also prove to be a bust.