The Murdoch/Google Phony War

Are you gripped by the Google - Murdoch battle? Are you fascinated by the clash of these print and online behemoths as they fight for the future of journalism? Are you debating the implications of Google blinking over access to paywalled content?

You fell for it.

There is no battle, bar one of posturing and PR.

Because, really how is Google actually Murdoch's competitor for the newspaper business? It is a business that has grown rich over giving people quick access to created content, and an opportunity to monetise that content, through ads. It has much the same relationship to newspaper websites as, say, newsagents did to the print title. The metaphor is not exact, but it stands. Google is not a content producer, but a way of finding it and monetising it. If your cost base does not match the potential revenue, well, that's hardly Google's fault, is it?

So why are News International execs so keen on waging this war? Oh, so many reasons.

  • Google is one of the few companies that make Murdoch's empire look like the underdog
  • It allows Murdoch to cast himself in a heroic mode: defender of journalism!
  • It builds buzz and excitement around Murdoch's plans. Publicity like that is valuable.
  • Google is a name, a big name. And one that can be used as a shorthand for the internet, and the way it operates.
But in this war of words, the true issues seem strangely absent. Where's the discussion of how newspapers can compete for readers in the age of the attention crash? Where's the careful analysis of the role of the general publication when their audience's time is being slowly eaten away by a million and one niche websites that speak more directly to them than anything a national paper publishes? Who is talking about how you rebuild publilshing companies to  account for the new economic reality of internet publishing. (The Telegraph's doing that. They're following established successful strategies. Yet everyone still talks far more about the phony war. God bless quality reporting, huh?)
In the end, a war on Google is a much more appealing spin on the newspapers' current position than "we haven't figured out how to make money online in a decade of trying". They'll blame Google, they'll blame the shadowy cabal of infomation-must-be-free proponents, they'd probably blame the wrong kind of tubes if they could, but, in the end, the only blame lies in their own failure to innovate and respond to a massively changing information ecology until they find themselves standing on the very brink of the precipice,

Now, it's possible that some really great thinking is going on within the portals of Murdoch's company. I will be astonished if some clever play does not underlie this carefully-constructed phony war. Indeed, it's entirely possible that Murdoch's focus is more on getting a march on some of his competitors by persuading them that Google is the enemy and paywalls are the answer, while he'll actually end up doing something else.

But I'm not buying this phony war. Are you?