Newspaper Publisher: Search Engines Break Into Our Homes

from the excuse-me? dept

Reader Mark points us to the latest ridiculous claims from a newspaper publisher against search engines like Google. This time, it’s Brendan Hopkins, the CEO of APN, Australia’s largest regional newspaper, who seems to be blaming everyone else for his own inability to come up with a good business model. The real kicker is his attack on search engines:

“To use an analogy, I see search engines as breaking into our homes, itemising the contents, walking out and listing everything for everyone to see. And they get money out of that process…. The only problem is, I don’t see any revenue being paid directly from Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft in our company profit and loss accounts.”

Yes, how dare they point more people to your site. And this isn’t private info in your house that Google is suddenly maliciously displaying. This is content that you put up on your site on purpose with the goal of getting more people to see it. The analogy would only make sense if you didn’t offer up that content for public consumption.

But, of course, the blame also gets spread around to anyone else who reports on the news in one of APN’s papers:

“Our value is diminished by other media companies, both online and in print, with limited resources, who feed off our newspapers, by those who take the ideas of the newspapers, rewrite our journalists’ words to be miraculously their own words, and then put it on a blog or a broadcast piece and call that journalism.”

No, your value isn’t diminished in such scenarios — it’s increased. Otherwise, why would anyone want to use your work as a basis of their own. If you can’t monetize being first and having all the contacts and the details, doesn’t that suggest a problem with your own ways of trying to monetize, rather than with what your competitors are doing?

Even worse, Hopkins claims that YouTube’s recent agreement with PRS over music hosted on YouTube should serve as a model for newspapers to get paid. I had suggested earlier, that Google’s willingness to “cave” on some of these sorts of deals was only going to cause more problems, as more companies and industries would all start assuming that Google owed them money too — using the examples of where Google paid others as evidence. Unfortunately, it looks like that was correct.

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Companies: apn

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Comments on “Newspaper Publisher: Search Engines Break Into Our Homes”

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Lisae Boucher (profile) says:

I wonder if newspapers would still be as “successful” as they are now if search engines would just stop indexing their sites and instead start to focus on other sites that welcome those search engines.
Of course, any newspaper with online content that blocks the major search engine soon ends up having no useful online content anymore.

News has no value. It’s just something that happens and anyone can report about it. It’s the way how you present news and the number of people who visit your writings that make news more valuable.

Kevin Stapp (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Google/Yahoo/Bing provide their indexing services for free to each an every site the wishes to opt in. Yet these sites want to get paid for benefit they receive from a free service. Its like going into a restaurant to get a glass of water then demanding the restaurant pay you to drink it.

What the newspaper industry is ‘forgetting’ is they have total control over what the major search engines index. A simple update to ROBOTS.txt on their web servers will exclude the site from indexing. If they REALLY think Google/Yahoo/Bing is ‘breaking into our homes’ they could easily lock the doors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, if you’re smarter than he is, what’s a good business model for him?

Make content, give it away for free … I don’t see a lot of dollars rolling in with that.

Make content, give it away for free, but put ads in … ah, but people use AdBlock. And advertisers are now wise to this.

Make content, give it away for free, but then have higher-level content readers have to pay for … you’re reduced to your original problem, plus the burden of writing free stuff. Plus, someone just pays for one account and redistributes your content.

I hear a lot of “Don’t do this,” but I am not hearing a lot of specific “Do this.” And no, “Come up with a good business model” is not a fantastic prescription for success. Seriously, I would love it if every TechDirt article saying how someone “just doesn’t get it” came with a “here is what they ought to do,” with real, actionable ideas in it. Most of it looks like “pass around a hat, hope for some quarters.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How about not starting with trying to shake down companies that are SENDING TRAFFIC TO YOUR SITE? After that it’s up to you. Use robots.txt, or put up a paywall, or whatever the hell you want. There’s plenty of sites that run off of ads… like this one for instance. And hey, guess what? They’re still here. Holy shit imagine that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:


“Make content, give it away for free … I don’t see a lot of dollars rolling in with that.”

Only if your business model depends on getting money directly for the free content. There are many, many ways for people to get that content without coming to your site, so the question is how do you leverage the people who are coming to you? Talking about blocking Google, etc. is counter-productive as it will reduce the number of visitors without any guarantee that those who remain will pay anything.

“Make content, give it away for free, but put ads in … ah, but people use AdBlock. And advertisers are now wise to this.”

I’d argue that this is a moot point. Nobody blocks ads they’re interested in. The only people using AdBlock are tech-savvy people who are tired of their browsers being filled with annoying and distracting ads they’re not interested in. I’d say they’re the least likely people to actually make you any ad revenue, so why bother worrying about them? Target those who will make you money, don’t spend time worrying about those who never will.

Besides, ads are not the only way to make money online – there are literally hundreds of ways if you stop whining about Craigslist “stealing” classifieds and Google “stealing” customers by sending them to you.

“Make content, give it away for free, but then have higher-level content readers have to pay for … you’re reduced to your original problem, plus the burden of writing free stuff.”

Aw, journalists have to do some work, instead of simply rewriting AP releases? Poor things…

“Plus, someone just pays for one account and redistributes your content.”

Then, we’re back to the main point. The news is public domain because it’s just facts. Newspapers have to give people a reason to pay for premium content. This has always been the way – why buy a newspaper when you can borrow a friend’s or hear the news second-hand from other people or for free on the radio? People will go to the primary source if they wish, otherwise there’s nothing you can do to make them. The trick is to make them want to.

Do you have any constructive ideas, or do you actually agree with the idea that blocking the very avenue through which most newspapers get their online traffic is a good thing?

AC says:

Re: Re: Re:

“This has always been the way – why buy a newspaper when you can borrow a friend’s or hear the news second-hand from other people or for free on the radio?”

I think this is a very good point. The only reason I have ever bought newspapers, even pre-internet, was because they were able to either provide greater depth to a story, or provided some other value, like the Sunday ads, and comics (not the only reason, just an example). I payed a negligible amount to get the TV news (power, cost of TV over time), and when the value provided by that *nearly* free source wasn’t enough I was willing to seek and pay for another source.

The newspapers have more to contend with now, and it’s too bad they aren’t able to cope with the news landscape.

Another AC says:

Re: Re:

People have historically never paid for news, the half a buck to a buck that people paid was to cover the printing and materials, the publshers money was made on advertising. Why should people suddenly start paying for content when they never did before? hell, there are a number of papers in print in my area that are free and always have been, so exactly what the hell are you talking about?

TtfnJohn says:

Re: Re:

Well, I guess the people who browse in the newspaper displays in stores, at news stands and other locations are breaking into his corporate home.

And what about all those bastards they leave papers in restaurants for everyone to leaf through…aren’t they doing it too?

As for AdBlock and other things like NoScript is that people quickly shut them down because they’ve become so overzealous and bound and determined to block anything THEY might think qualifies. Advertisers would be well aware of that too or ought to be. My bet is that for every 100 downloads of both plugins 1 is still in use in years time.

As for the do list. Try compelling content for one thing. With all the cutbacks in the newspaper business these days local and compelling content is wedged in between so much AP and Reuters dross that it’s hard to find. And that, my friend, has been talked about here as have other suggestions.

I think it’s time to get something to eat and break into a newpaper’s home by reading a copy of the local paper left, in your view, immorally there, for me and others to read!



Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget the option:

Make content, put it behind a paywall … no one can find the content, and no one pays for it.

How about this for your business plan:

Make content, give it away for free, put ads in that aren’t generic pay-per-click ads that AdBlockers block, create a community to sell to advertisers, add other items for sale that aren’t news and can’t be copied by Ctrl-C, add a donate button for those who want to return monetarily the value they perceived that they received from free content … make money from advertisers & readers while providing a community service by giving people a REASON to pay other than simply because the site is writing about stuff it didn’t do.

Honestly, if the newspaper industry can’t come up with a usable business plan that doesn’t involve complaining about not being given free money … then how valuable are their insights into the current world, and how valuable is their content when they can’t even manage to keep themselves afloat. If they don’t understand their own market, how are we to trust what they have to say about anything?

Why is the newspaper industry waiting for someone to come up with their business plan for them. And if we do, how much money is the newspaper industry going to give us for saving them?!?

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In Boston, I used to read the Metro … a FREE daily print newspaper.

In Denver, I read the Denver Daily News … a FREE daily print newspaper.

If print newspapers can give their content away for free already, why can’t they do that on-line? They can … most of them that have charged to partially cover printing costs are just too stupid to see the forest for the trees.

The news is filled with newspapers that charge to partially cover printing costs that are closing down. Yet, the FREE daily print newspapers all seem to be doing fine. It’s that the FREE newspapers have understood for YEARS … the news is free to read, but advertisers and local businesses pay to get their messages heard by the community that reads the news.

Newspaper companies have traditionally worked by selling their community of readers to advertisers … not by selling news to consumers.

Anonymous Coward says:

That first quote is a bit off. It’s more like Google walking into your store, itemizing the contents, and then running a circular in the paper for your store. See, your site is not like your home. It’s a business. Google aside, you probably want lots of people coming to your store/site. And you can put a sign outside of your store that says “Hey search engines, don’t come in here”. And they won’t come in and do your free ad.

But of course they won’t do that. It’s the easiest thing in the world, but they won’t do it. Why not? Oh yeah, because they want the free circular in the paper. AND they want to GET PAID for the free circular.

Makes total sense.

JJ says:

“I see search engines as breaking into our homes, itemising the contents, walking out and listing everything for everyone to see.”

Except, of course, that this is content the newspapers have posted with the express purpose of bringing people in to read it… so really, it’s more like walking into your store, itemizing the contents, then walking out and making it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to find out exactly what you’ve got. Now, if you ran a store and somebody offered to do that for you for free, think about how incredibly wonderful that’d be.

larry bartell (profile) says:

So why doesn't she stop them?

All this phony victimology is getting beyond ridiculous.

If newspaper execs like Brenda Hopkins and Sam Zell are so upset about Google “looting” their content, why don’t they simply block Google from indexing their websites? It isn’t hard to do. On their website, Google very publicly posts instructions explaining how any site that doesn’t want to appear in their search results can opt out. I believe all it takes is 2 short lines of code and Google will entirely ignore them.

The webmasters who run these newspapers’ sites are certainly aware of this. Yet no newspapers opt out. Why? Because they know that their traffic would plummet without Google.

Instead, they welcome the readers the search engines provide them for free, while hypocritically accusing them of stealing. Now that’s chutzpah.

Nicholas Overstreet (profile) says:

Re: Sounds like a job for...

It’s like these boneheads whine and cry about google indexing their site (heaven forbid they get traffic on their site), instead of taking about 5 seconds to add in the lines to block google from indexing their site.
They act like they’re helpless victims when they’re anything but.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Sounds like a job for...

“robots.txt … faster than the legislators… able to block searching content in a single file…”

Truly funny, but besides the point. Newspapes do NOT want Google to stop indexing them, they simply want to whine and cry about this, pretending to be the victim, until an ignorant populace and legislators come running to the rescue. They’re filing false rape reports to get access to part of the “perpetrator’s” trust fund, nothing else.

It really is this simple: go up to the average citizen, legislator, or legislator aide and mention robots.txt and see what kind of reaction you get. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. And why is that?

Well, it seems to me there are only two possibilities:

1. Google/Yahoo/Bing/etc. aren’t talking about it: which seems stupid. This is a REALLY easy situation to resolve, and the newspapers and their webmasters hold all the keys and are guarding all the doors. I HAVE to imagine that Google has attempted to get the word out about this, if for no other reason than to influence any judicial members or the jury pool.

2. They ARE talking about it, but the traditional media is going out of its way to suppress that information: that makes FAR more sense to me. I know I’m more open to believing in corruption and conspiracy or whatever you want to call it today, but ask yourself which is more likely: Google ignoring the simple solution, or traditional media controlling information.

Tom Betz (profile) says:

Having his cake and eating it too.

I left a comment for the Telegraph’s story; anyone care to wager on whether it gets published?

Obviously, Brendan Hopkins has never heard of “robots.txt”. I suggest he Google the term, or ask his webmaster about it. It is the standard means of politely telling search engines to bugger off, and Google happily honors it. If Mr. Hopkins doesn’t want Google to index his newspaper web sites, he need only tell them so via “robots.txt”, and his web sites will soon find the obscurity they so richly deserve.

However, I suspect that Brendan Hopkins in reality wants to have his cake (Google helping him to publicize the content on his web sites) and eat it too (hypocritically complain about Google publicizing that same content).

iNtrigued (profile) says:

Breaking & Entering???

How about this scenario/analogy? You just got a promotion(idea for a site) and you want to move into a new home(the internet). So you get your current home into order(create the site) and then put it on the market(publish site). Now imagine someone comes along(Google) and compiles(indexes) everything your house has to offer. Then they start to bring in the most interested buyers, based on the compiled info, to view your house. To top it all off, they do it completely for FREE.

To me this sounds much more like Google is doing a valuable service, not that they are some thieves/burglars stealing private info from your house to share with the world.

Robert says:

Prove it

If they *really* feel this way, they could fix it:

put a robots.txt file in your root directory with:
User-agent: *
Disallow: /

That will cause google and all other search engines to stop indexing and eventually (a few weeks) remove the site from the index.

Then Google won’t be “stealing” their content.

If they aren’t willing to do that… WHY?

It’s simple enough. If they don’t want Google indexing, they can stop is in

Doctor Strange says:

What amazes me is everyone who comes on here saying “robots.txt! robots.txt!” and then stops thinking entirely.

Do you honestly think that major newspapers are ignorant of the existence of robots.txt? That not one person in their entire organization of thousands has the idea that maybe there’s some way to block Google News?

Do you honestly think that the major goal of newspapers and media companies is to whine themselves to death?

My bet as to why “robots.txt” hasn’t been used yet: it’s the nuclear option. Yes, a paper could invoke it. After doing so, Google gets nothing from the paper, and the paper gets nothing from Google. This moves things to a strict lose-lose situation, which is even worse than what they’ve got now. I imagine what the papers are hoping for is for Google to share revenue or enter into some kind of deeper agreement, where the newspapers (and maybe Google) can make more money.

Google is obviously in the stronger negotiating position. They have far less to lose. So we’ll see what happens.

Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, has been pretty honest and forthcoming about the future of newspapers.

In summary, he points out that 1) Google does send revenue to newspapers, but not enough to sustain them; 2) although there is great demand for news, not enough people are willing to pay for it to keep it coming; 3) Google can’t think of a business model the newspapers could use to rectify the situation; 4) Google has no interest in a solution that sustains newspapers without a workable business model (e.g., buying them, cash infusions); 5) if traditional journalism diminishes, bloggers will not make up the difference.

Given that position, I don’t think the newspapers should be holding their breath. As such, I wonder why they keep up with the current unsustainable situation. My guess is they’re buying time trying to come up with new business models. They don’t seem to be having much luck with that, and even Eric Schmidt can’t think of one.

Joe says:

I think a more accurate analogy would be that instead of breaking into their homes, it would be as if newspapers are having a yard sale. They want people to come are view what they are selling. Google takes a look at all the yard sales in the area and makes a list. They put advertising on the list and give the list away for free. Readers can take that and go to the specific yard sale for a specific item.

I can understand newspapers preferring users only go to their yard sale but i’m not seeing anything wrong with what Google is doing here.

cram says:

What newspapers can, and must do, is slim down, diversify and think out of the box.

Have a lean and mean team to do the local reporting

Get international feed and pix from news agencies

Go beyond the news by organizing events (business summits, sporting events, beauty contests, film festivals, science fairs, music concerts)

Rope in the young by getting involved in campuses, reaching out to students

Raise awareness of international issues and catalyze opportunities (employment, entrepreneurship, real estate, volunteer), exchange programs, cultural cross-pollination

Venture into publishing books, special reports, niche magazines

Newspapers have to necessarily attach themselves to as many quality offerings as possible if they want to stay afloat.

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