Microsoft May Grease News Corp.’s Palm to Quit Google

Call it the “New Moon” strategy at Microsoft. Team Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. are having a lovers’ quarrel over search aggregation of news content; Murdoch claims Team Google is nothing but a bloodthirsty vampire draining potential ad revenue.

So like a hunky werewolf in a certain blockbuster movie, here comes Team Bing to try and steal away News Corp. heart.

Actually, both the Financial Times and News Corp.’s own Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Microsoft is offering to pay News Corp. for its affections in the form of de-indexing their content from Google searches while keeping them high on Bing queries. The FT adds that Microsoft is offering the same financial love to other as-yet-unnamed content providers as well.

Microsoft’s apparent move, fueled by its legendary deep pockets, is taking advantage of the fight Murdoch has waged with Google over the past few months over what he sees as a lack of compensation for linking to content from News Corp. properties like The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and his other news publications. Murdoch told Sky News Australia earlier this month that he intended to eventually close off all News Corp. content to Google searches.

Details of the reported discussions between Microsoft and News Corp. aren’t fully known. For example, does the compensation deal include News Corp.’s non-news properties, such as MySpace and 20th Century Fox movie Web sites? And exactly how much money is Microsoft offering?If confirmed, the move promises to take the search engine battle to new heights. Pundits are already wondering who will end up howling in pain more because of the “New Moon” strategy: Google or News Corp.?

Google’s Response

Google News would not comment on the specifics of the news reports, but spokesperson Chris Gaither did highlight the general terms of the relationship between his company and news content providers.

“Google News and Web search are a tremendous source of promotion for news organizations, sending them about 100,000 clicks every minute,” Gaither told the E-Commerce Times.

“Each of those visits offers a business opportunity for the publishers to show ads, win loyal readers and sell subscriptions,” he added. “News publishers can charge for their content while at the same time ensuring that it’s discovered through Google — these two are not mutually exclusive.

“Publishers put their content on the Web because they want it to be found, so very few choose to exclude their material from Google News and Web search,” Gaither continued. “But we respect copyright owners’ wishes. If publishers don’t want their Web sites to appear in search results, there are easy ways to remove it.”

There’s a technical process involved in keeping Google’s search crawlers and bots from accessing news content, said Jake Hubert, another Google spokesperson. Google offers different levels of content discovery to publishers — everything from full access to linked stories to just the first two paragraphs of paid content.

“Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. Standards are in place that Google and other search engines follow that enable site owners to protect information on their sites from being indexed and searchable. These standards give site owners the flexibility to publish content and control how it is found,” Hubert told the E-Commerce Times.

Who Wins?

“I can understand the frustration of News Corp. They say Google and others are stealing their content, especially if people aren’t going to their sites so they can make some ad revenue,” said In-Stat chief technology strategist Jim McGregor. “But it’s probably a better idea to add more value to bring them to your site than try to block the searches.”

Microsoft has a lot of cash on hand to pay for search results that end up first on Bing. However, search engines — even ones with massive market share like Google — aren’t perfect, and many people still have bookmarked sites for the information they seek out on a regular basis, McGregor argued. Comparing Google’s current slice of the search market to Bing’s, even with the progress Bing has seen since its summer launch, could make content providers think long and hard about Microsoft’s offer.

“You’re facing a lack of exposure,” McGregor told the E-Commerce Times. “If you’re giving up a big percentage of potential exposure to your existing or potential customer base, can you make up for that somehow? That’s like canceling your ads on the Super Bowl. There’s more potential detriment here to News Corp.”

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