Microsoft and News Corp to end the era of free content (and kill search along with it)

Media mogul, Rupert Murdoch recently announced he’d be charging for all content in his media empire, defying the free model that has dominated media since the internet’s conception, and threatening to end the era of free quality news.

Now Murdoch plans to remove all his content from being searchable through Google. Why? He says that it’s not about the quantity of traffic his sites get, but rather the proportion of those visits that are paying customers. He believes that people who will pay for his content will not need a search engine to discover it; therefore he sees no benefit in keeping his sites searchable.

At first his explanation didn’t make sense: removing his content from Google wouldn’t reduce the number of paying customers. The motivation all became clear when Microsoft announced it was in discussions with News Corp. to buy sole rights to their content.

Imagine a world in which you had to remember which search engines would contain the exact content you are looking for. In other words, imagine a world where there are no useful search engines – as this is what Murdoch and Microsoft is threatening.

Let’s run through the scenario. Microsoft pays News Corp around $20 million (an estimate based on News Corp.’s revenue driven through search) in return for the right to make News Corp’s content solely searchable through Bing.

With News Corp dominating a huge chunk of international news media, the public will quickly turn to Bing for their news searches. It could be Google’s first real threat – until they buy the sole rights to Time Warner’s content, that is.

What happens now? Well, (besides the desperate bidding by search engines and the looks of glee from the news companies), news consumers are faced with a dilemma.

The purpose of a search engines is, as Google’s Marissa Mayer put it, “to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful”.

But is it really accessible or useful if we are forced to choose between different search engines for different information we seek? A key component to what makes search engines so useful is the ability to choose the content that best matches your search, with all the options laid out in order of relevance.

Microsoft and News Corp. both have unquestionably large owner and influence. There is a real possibility that this deal could happen, and search will be fundamentally changed forever.

In turn, there is also the possibility that Microsoft could come out worse off than when it started. With an already negative image, Microsoft cannot afford any more mistakes. With a move that stifles innovation and competitiveness, Microsoft could be on their way to another antitrust suit.

Is this Google reneging on their motto of “do no evil”?

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

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