Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Murdoch's Tiny Victory Against Free News


Rupert Murdoch didn't get where he is today by being a shrinking violet. Neither did he succeed by allowing his focus to divert, even ever so slightly, away from how to screw everyone else to the best advantage of R. Murdoch. So it is hardly surprising that he has been so aggressive in his campaign against news aggregator sites, as well as the providers of free news - most notably the BBC. All of these sites damage his own revenue raising machine, and in truth he has yet to work out a way to make the internet work for him in the way that print and television media does.

However, he seems to have won a small victory today with Google's announcement that it is only allowing surfers up to 5 clicks to a free news article before directing people to the appropriate subscription page. This effectively limits the access that surfers used to have to specific pages on subscription sites. And this is where Murdoch wants to see the internet heading - nicely behind pay-walls, preferably erected by himself.

But it is, in the end, only a tiny victory. It may direct a bit of traffic to the subscription pages, but for the most part internet news browsers will simply move to the free news pages, which are considerable. That's if they make as many as five clicks to the same pay site (such as Murdoch's Wall Street Journal) which seems unlikely. So Murdoch's very voluble campaign to restrict free news access on the web will continue, just as his campaign against the BBC will continue. After all, how annoying is a state monopoly that gets in the way of your own plans for a private monopoly?

Rupert Murdoch has stirred up the media industry for many years, some times positively, all times for his own single-minded purpose of creating a Murdoch monopoly. He is a huge and influential player and what he does matters, but we should never take either his own or his subordinates' justifications at face value, and frankly, in the internet, Murdoch may have finally met his match. After all, who can guard against the clicks of a million internet browsers, all surfing and creating free news? As a counter-blast to the man's whinges, Arianna Huffington of the (free) net paper Huffington Post, puts the case against Murdoch here, arguing along the way that he himself owns a substantial number of aggregator sites anyway, thus diminishing his already fragile arguments. Google, in the meantime, might be able to congratulate themselves on having conceded very little, but may want to consider how many times they intend to compromise to the bigger bully in the playground, be it a media mogul or an authoritarian government (China).

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