Your readers are paying you — with attention

by Mathew on November 10, 2009 · 84 comments

Rupert Murdoch, that sly old rascal, caused a minor Twitter-storm recently, with an interview in which he suggested that News Corp. might remove its websites from Google, which he has described in the past as a “thief” that takes content without asking (Google, for its part, said that it would be more than happy to oblige Rupert’s whims in this regard). As Mike Masnick at Techdirt also noted, Murdoch even went so far as to argue that “fair use” principles were likely illegal, and would eventually be proven so. You have to give the guy credit for knowing a soundbite when he sees one.

Mark Cuban, another crusty old billionaire (although just a pup compared to Rupe), used these remarks as a jumping-off point for his own flight of rhetorical fancy, in which he argued that social-recommendation networks such as Twitter and Facebook were far more important than Google, and that therefore Rupert was right and all the “information-must-be-free bigots” who criticized him must be wrong. But as Steve Rhodes (@tigerbeat) pointed out on Twitter after I posted a link to Cuban’s rant, all the social-recommendations in the world aren’t going to help Rupert if he insists on putting his content behind pay walls.

David Santori made a similar point in a comment on one of my paywall-related posts at the Nieman Journalism Lab. As he put it:

“overlooked in all this is the social aspect: any web item that interests or amuses or intrigues me, I want to share. And if I can’t share it promptly and easily — in an email link or on my blog or Facebook “wall” or in a tweet — I will be frustrated and irked just in proportion to the degree of interest I felt in the item.”

and

“The NYT registration barrier was in fact a micropayment system, one in which the payment was extracted in the form of the reader’s time and keystrokes to log in whenever they got a link to a useful story.”

I think both David and Steve make an excellent point, one which publishers ignore at their peril. Readers online may not pay you directly with currency, but they pay you with their time and attention (the foundation of the so-called “attention economy”) and it’s in your interest to make things as easy for them as possible — which is just one strike amongst many against pay walls. And if Mark Cuban is right (which I think he is) about social recommendations becoming increasingly important as a way to find valuable content, what happens when someone shares a link to your pay-walled content?

What happens is a potential reader runs headfirst into that wall, or has to jump through all sorts of hoops to read it (i.e., check to see if there is a Google News loophole), and that is a significant disincentive to a) read anything further, or b) share any links themselves. It’s the classic cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face problem: you try to generate incremental revenue through restricted access, but by doing so you deprive your content of even more valuable re-distribution through recommendation networks, which in the long run reduces your traffic and thus your revenue.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Obviously he still has promotional power — all kinds of it. So I'll be interested to see what happens to his business when he removes Google and virtually all of social media from that equation. Should be a fascinating test case.

  • markcuban

    First, remember, Rupert just bought the WSJ recently. I dont think he can scrub it, nor should he try, of all the bad habits. Its not worth the effort.

    And to your point. He has raised prices. He is starting to charge places they have never charged before. And guess what, the WSJ is now the #1 daily in the country.

    Newspapers are raising prices of print left and right. They finally realized that the people who want their print product, really, really want it and will pay for it.

    The WSJ is a bad example because there are too many investors/traders who cant afford not to get it at any price. The WSJ moves markets.

    The NY Post will be the most interesting test case. Its a product that is not a must have. It has suffered because they have raised newstand prices. They are in an incredibly competitive market. Its VERY difficult for them to differentiate with anything except maybe gossip. But, there is a difference between reach and revenues and profits. Its very possible if not likely, that by charging for content online and increasing the newstand and subscription prices, they make far more money from the Post.
    But I dont think that is the right move for them either. All the commentators here seem to look at each Newscorp asset as a standalone business. Its not. Newscorp has an incredible amount of digital assets. The marginal cost of delivery of which approaches zero. They have the ability to create content bundles that are of significant value to consumers, without the consumer thinking they are paying for the newscontent. I doubt Newsday /Cablevision subscribers know or care what the rules are for them to get Newsday online. THey get it. Just so happens non Cablevision subscribers have to pay.

    THe prevailing wisdom seems to be if you build it and they come, why not let them in the door ? The answer is because they get there, but dont really know or care where they are at. They went to google and got what they were looking for from some site google sent them to. I know the numbers i have seen from news sites show that retention of uniques earned through google searches is not high. They are visitors. They leave. THere is no relationship developed.

    IMHO, just as people ignore the banner ads on pages, they ignore the name of the company presenting the content. One is just above the other.

    you are the search expert, but my business sense tells me that its better to focus on the people who are there to dance with me. Block google. See what the information tells me. See what happens. I dont think you lose anything, and you might just hit a home run

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  • http://twitter.com/AGORACOM/statuses/5592156997 AGORACOM (AGORACOM – George)

    Twitter Comment


    @mathewi @mcuban my linke to my specific comment within the article failed. Please try again here: [link to post]

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    So newspapers fail to convert readers who come in through search. Is
    that Google's fault, or the Internet's fault, or is it the fault of
    the newspaper for not knowing (or caring) how to engage and convert
    and retain readers? Better to focus on charging an ever-shrinking
    number of devoted readers ever-increasing sums for the same old
    content. Great strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/rgeller/statuses/5602093015 rgeller (Bob Geller)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @Penenberg: RT @mathewi: Mark Cuban sez Murdoch wants to start a stampede of media cos out of Google [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/thedigitalists/statuses/5602204908 thedigitalists (Greg H)

    Twitter Comment


    If readers’ attention has no value, why do publishers put so much effort into packaging it for advertisers? [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/mathewi/statuses/5602567877 mathewi (Mathew Ingram)

    Twitter Comment


    great response to @mcuban from @dannysullivan, in the comment thread on my Murdoch post: [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/DaveHaber/statuses/5602693958 DaveHaber (DaveHaber)

    Twitter Comment


    Serious debate in the comments at @matthewi ‘s post: Your readers are paying you — with attention – [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/mathewi/statuses/5601790532 mathewi (Mathew Ingram)

    Twitter Comment


    Mark Cuban says Murdoch wants to start a stampede of media entities out of the Google index — comments here: [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/Penenberg/statuses/5602044817 Penenberg (Adam L. Penenberg)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: Mark Cuban sez Murdoch wants to start a stampede of media cos out of Google [link to post] Great comment thread.

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  • http://twitter.com/vincrosbie/statuses/5602110148 vincrosbie (Vin Crosbie)

    Twitter Comment


    ‘Turd-in-the-pool’ tactic RT @mathewi: Mark Cuban sez Murdoch wants to start a stampede of media cos out of Google [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/kyigit/statuses/5602229558 kyigit (Kaan Yigit)

    Twitter Comment


    invisible, no? RT @mathewi: Mark Cuban says Murdoch wants to start a stampede of media entities out of the Google index [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/thedigitalists/statuses/5602089767 thedigitalists (Greg H)

    Twitter Comment


    A great point from @matthewi: readers aren’t freeloaders, they’re paying you their time and attention [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/digiphile/statuses/5603072340 digiphile (Alex Howard)

    Twitter Comment


    Jealous: @mathewi’s post on paywalls in e-publishing garnered comments from both @mcuban & @dannysullivan: [link to post] Murdoch next?

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  • markcuban

    Actually, for all either one of us knows, that could be the exact right strategy to identifying exactly what your customers want and how to make them happy. Using that information to find more like minded prospects and turn them into customers.

    Makes a whole lot more sense than letting everyong in the door and praying they will stay around and then praying that you can sell advertising for their stay, and then praying its at a price that helps you pay your bills.

    One key tenant of business is know your customer as best you can. A 2nd key tenant is that you cant make everyone happy. Take the ones who llike what you do and provide them great service and value.

  • http://twitter.com/dannysullivan/statuses/5606410190 dannysullivan (Danny Sullivan)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: great response to @mcuban from @dannysullivan, in the comment thread on my Murdoch post: [link to post] [ah shucks]

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  • shanthalabalagopal

    But the adverting revenue model is not sustainable. Ad revenues have dropped significantly over the past year. It is definitely not a guaranteed source of revenue for any company. One of the main source of income for Newspaper companies are the ads they run in their newspaper. But the physical newspaper market is shrinking. Yes, maybe newspapers can try to do the same thing with their online market, but in this world of channel surfing, web page skipping, tivo recording, ads are not going to convert like they used to before. So how would a company benefit by giving away content for free via Google? What/who is going to pay the people who us bringing the news – reporters, editors. etc? Unless physical newspapers make a come back like the vinyl, charging for content will be inevitable.

    If the content is unique and if recommended from a good friend on a social network, why won't a user pay? We will in the future tell a story about how once upon a time all this content was free. Remember our grandparents used to say that? :)

  • http://twitter.com/johnkmccaw John K. McCaw

    Interesting discussion Matthew. Thank you for hosting.

    This is what I think is missing from the conversation:

    RT @gfulgoni: I share the concern RT @jblossom: Publishers Wonder If Marketers Have Lost Touch With Branding http://bit.ly/1kMiJa

    Ironically, the message above came from John Battelle's Twitter account. It's ironic to me because John Battelle's personal brand will forever be linked to Google and it is Google that is largely responsible for destroying brands. Simply put, Google has paved the way for all marketing to turn into Direct Marketing and it is killing publishers of all types.

    For brands, its death by a thousand Google searches.

    By design or by luck Google has positioned itself such that it grows stronger as other media properties grow weaker. Its far better for Google if consumers get their news from 1000 different sources than if they get their news from 1 source. That goes for businesses of all types, the more the Internet plays a central role in any industry, the more the brands in said industry find themselves under Google's control.

    People need a reminder that Google is a big business. This is not kindergarten and Google is not interested in sharing. To grow Google needs more advertising revenues. The advertising pie is only so big, and advertising money that goes directly to Fox News or WSJ is advertising revenue that isn't going through the Google ecosystem. Its really that simple.

    Murdoch is trying to rescue his brands. Brands that are otherwise going to die a slow death, death by 1000 google searches. Is it as simple as blocking Google's crawler? No. Are there viable strategies that can be employed where NewsCorp's Internet properties can maintain traffic levels, while declaring their independance from Google? I think so.

    Back to brands for a second. There was a time when Media and Commerce worked hand in hand. Consumers understood that the advertiser supported the content they were watching, there was an indistinguishable connection. In that world, the media entities brand mattered, and the media entities brand was used to build another brand. That association doesn't exist in today's Internet and IMO that is unhealthy for every business not names Google.

  • http://twitter.com/bosscreative/statuses/5609970675 bosscreative (thisisboss.com)

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    Your readers are paying you — with attention [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/sashaaprice5/statuses/5610221595 sashaaprice5 (Sasha A Price)

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    Your readers are paying you — with attention: I did my own little test and learned the key to Twitter superiori.. [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/TwtMaxProfits/statuses/5610696207 TwtMaxProfits (Twt Max Profits)

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    From @TwtMaxProfits: Your readers are paying you — with attention [link to post] FreeBook @TwtMaxBook

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  • http://twitter.com/Rflowers127/statuses/5615180521 Rflowers127 (Rflowers127)

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    Your readers are paying you — with attention: Consider, for example, the Daily Telegraph’s expose on Britis.. [link to post]

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  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    Murdoch's threat to pull out of the Google index isn't a sucker bet and here's why.

    Google is paying Murdoch for a MySpace feed. Bing just agreed to pay Twitter for a Twitter feed. Hundreds of Millions of dollars for a pile of personal social blah blah blah.

    Google pays nothing to Murdoch and his fellow programmers/publishers for a feed of the product of the professional paid journalists and other content creators.

    Maybe you should be directing your questions to Google instead of Murdoch.

    Katherine Warman Kern
    @comradity

  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    A “lead” is not a “lead.” Conversion rates differ for one lead vs. another and for one product vs. another, for many reasons. For example, timing: is the lead coming in the day the article was written or 5 years later. Or, confirmation bias: when confronted with abundant choice, most people will opt for the choice that reinforces their personal point of view, so, you can increase conversion rates by targeting people with a compatible bias.

    The Google search index is like throwing it up there an hoping it sticks. When a Google lead comes in the odds of converting are low because garbage in, garbage out.

    There are better strategies. I've seen as high as a 30% conversion of a small well-defined universe.

  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    Murdoch's threat to pull out of the Google index isn't a sucker bet and here's why.

    Google is paying Murdoch for a MySpace feed. Bing just agreed to pay Twitter for a Twitter feed. Hundreds of Millions of dollars for a pile of personal social blah blah blah.

    Google pays nothing to Murdoch and his fellow programmers/publishers for a feed of the product of the professional paid journalists and other content creators.

    Maybe you should be directing your questions to Google instead of Murdoch.

    Katherine Warman Kern
    @comradity

  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    All “leads” are not the same. Conversion rates differ for one lead vs. another and for one product vs. another, for many reasons. For example, timing: is the lead coming in the day the article was written or 5 years later. Or, confirmation bias: when confronted with abundant choice, most people will opt for the choice that reinforces their personal point of view, so, you can increase conversion rates by targeting people with a compatible bias.

    The Google search index is like throwing it up there an hoping it sticks. When a Google lead comes in the odds of converting are low because garbage in, garbage out.

    There are better strategies. I've seen as high as a 30% conversion of a small well-defined universe.

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  • http://twitter.com/smarketer/statuses/5734126803 smarketer (Amjad Puliyali)

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    RT @mathewi: Take on Murdoch’s Internet Cluelessness, @mcuban’s Twitter Idea & the Attention Economy [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/ericrumsey/statuses/5629698111 ericrumsey (Eric Rumsey)

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    RT @mathewi: My Take on Murdoch’s Internet Cluelessness, @mcuban’s Twitter Idea & the Attention Economy [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/slominski/statuses/5641940050 slominski (Jacek Slominski)

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    RT @ericrumsey RT @mathewi: My Take on Murdoch’s Internet Cluelessness, @mcuban’s Twitter Idea & the Attention Economy [link to post]

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