Rupert Murdoch: The Digital Don Quixote?

It has been documented to death that the business of journalism is broken but no one has come up with a widely-embraced killer idea to save it.

The exception, however, is News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch who has been leading the charge recently about introducing paywalls – something already done at the Wall St. Journal.

Now, Murdoch has raised the idea of not letting News Corp.’s Web sites be indexed by Google. In an interview with Sky News political editor David Speers, Murdoch suggests that while Google drives a lot of traffic to News Corp. sites, he’d rather have fewer people visiting but have those people pay for content.

“They shouldn’t have had it free all the time. I think we’ve been asleep,” he said after Speers asked him about the fact free online content has been around for years. “It costs us a lot of moeny to put together good newspapers and good content. [Consumers] are very happy to buy a newspaper, and I think when they read it elsewhere, they are going to have to pay.”

There are two schools of thought about Murdoch’s thoughts: He’s either one of the few people bold enough – and powerful enough – in the newspaper business to start charging people for content, or he’s a digital Don Quixote, tilting at windmills – and Google – in a chivalrous but misguided mission to bring fiscal sanity back to the newspaper business.

As someone who increasingly sees paywalls as the only plausible way for newspapers to generate enough revenue to stay relevant and viable, I admire Murdoch for embracing a tactic that many people considered to be undoable.

Like Quixote, Murdoch’s quest may bring him great melancholy and test his faith but he appears to be a man on mission.

Update: Corey Doctorow rips into Murdoch, suggesting Murdoch is lying about his threat to stop Google from indexing News Corp. sites.

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