Rupert Murdoch isn't what one would call "subtle."
In an effort to illustrate the value of News Corp's online content, he's laid down the gauntlet to Google and other search engines and aggregators.
Murdoch said in an interview with Sky News Australia (which is partly owned by News Corp) that he's considering removing News Corp's articles from Google's search index; even hinting he'd consider suing Google and the BBC over what he calls "Stealing" material from his newspapers. This is a dramatic way for Murdoch to illustrate his insistence that News Corp content is paid for online, following his declaration earlier this year that he plans to charge for all the company's news Web sites by mid 2010.
Right now, if you find a WSJ.com article through a Google search, and click on the link, you're typically led to the full article on the newspaper's Web site, despite the fact that the Web site is, for the most part, behind a subscription pay wall. It would be one thing for Murdoch to say he wants to remove access to full articles, to make sure that consumers can, at most, get a headline and a link. But Murdoch is saying he wants to pull all links to his content from Google search. This is pretty dramatic considering that a full quarter of WSJ.com traffic is directed from Google search results.
Murdoch makes the point that he'd rather have fewer, higher-quality visitors that pay for access. Murdoch puts it best himself, in the Sky News interview saying: "What's the point of having someone come occasionally, who likes the headline they see in Google, come to us. Sure, we go out and say hey we have so many millions of visitors, advertise.... the fact is there's not enough advertising in the world to go around to make all the Web sites profitable."
News Corp's newspaper division could use some help.
Operating income for the business unit dropped to just $25 million in the company's most recent quarter, down from $134 million in the year-ago period. The question is whether Murdoch will go through with his threat to remove his content from Google search results, and what kind of effect (perhaps even disastrous) it could have on News Corp's Web sites' traffic. Could Murdoch be picking on Google in order to forge a profitable relationship with Microsoft's upstart Bing search engine? Perhaps, but it seems like he isn't too happy with the way Microsoft links to News Corp content either.
Google says it's happy to stop indexing any Web site, per that company's request. But Google's comments on the subject make it clear how ridiculous the company thinks that request would be for a news organization. Google says in a statement: "Publishers put their content on the web because they want it to be found."
Check out Murdoch's 37-minute interview yourself. It's long, but most of his most dramatic comments are within the first 10 minutes.