Why social search will kibosh News Corp Bing deal

The potential deal to block Google from indexing News Corp content giving crawling rights to Microsoft’s Bing looks clever, but has two major flaws, argues Alex Bellinger.

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23rd November 2009 at 4:35 pm

The web is awash with news that Rupert Murdoch may be about to do a deal with Microsoft to allow its Bing search engine to exclusively index News Corp media properties like The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Sun.

This would cut out Google and help, so the argument goes, Bing gain market share as well as strengthening Murdoch’s hand as he attempts to establish a pay-for-quality-news model on the internet.

Interestingly the strategy News Corp appears to be adopting was suggested on the 26th October by Jason Calacanis in his excellent, This Week in Startups show, well before any bloggers or other media picked up the idea. Here’s a clip of the discussion:

Was this a leak? News Corp is an investor in Calacanis’s latest venture Mahalo.

That aside, the Murdoch/Calacanis strategy seems on the face of it to be a smart one, until you factor in what’s known as ‘social search’.

Social search? Well, the fact that more and more people are finding content and news via links posted by friends on sites like Facebook and Twitter, rather than through search engines.

Increasing numbers of people aren’t searching for news anymore, the news is coming to them in the form of recommendations from their social networks.

rupertmurdochbingdeal

The Murdoch Microsoft deal - will social search block Bing exclusivity?

It’s not as if people aren’t going to be able to find the articles they’re looking for in The Times or The Wall Street Journal, just because they’re blocked in Google.

They’ll find the links to the stories that really matter from people they trust on Twitter. People they trust more than Microsoft’s Bing search engine which may, as Rory Cellan-Jones argues, dent its appearance of independence, if it does a deal with certain news providers.

And if you think social search isn’t really much of a big deal, why did both Microsoft and Google recently pay to index Twitter’s stream for search.

Think about the percentage of traffic online news sites are now seeing coming from the likes of Twitter, Facebook or Stumbleupon.

To give you a tangible example – here are some stats comparing percentage share of referring traffic to SmallBizPod over the last 12 months from social search and traditional search.

Search/Social Search % share % annual change
Google 59.74 +15.5
Facebook 3.32 +58.37
Bing/Live/MSN 1.70 -34%
Twitter 1.67 +259.95
Yahoo 1.33 +63.3

While the peculiarities of our own online marketing strategy may have an impact on the above, there’s no doubt of the growing influence of the power of social search in the form of Facebook and Twitter.

Then there’s the issue of anti-competitive practices and news pay walls.

If Murdoch does make internet users pay to access his newspapers online, then any exclusivity of search indexing on Bing will become a moot point.

If you search for a piece of news, find it on Bing, but are then told you can’t access it unless you pay, most people will simply go elsewhere.

Unless, of course, News Corp offers users their content for free, if it’s discovered on the Bing search engine.

This seems a highly unlikely outcome and would smack of anti-competitive practice.

So, the combination of social search and paywalls will put the kibosh on any News Corp Bing exclusivity contract.

My bet is the rumoured deal will never see the light of day.

[Picture credit: World Economic Forum licenced from Flickr]

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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  1. […] question how people really use Google and suspect that this will have little impact. Similarly other bloggers are currently over emphasising the importance of Social Search. Bottom line if you want news you go […]

  2. Nick Peters says:

    I don’t believe it is an issue of social media trumping Murdoch Bing. (Bing Murdoch…?)

    IMO search sites are not used for news acquisition. By its very nature news is push not pull…you can’t search for it because you don’t know it’s happened yet.

    I believe what people want is some kind of trusted mediation that brings them news from a variety of sources, the ultimate model for which is the Drudge Report which has been around for donkeys years.

    I think the Bing Murdoch deal is irrelevant, even when it comes to researching old stories. Google and others are surprisingly light on historic news stories, maybe because a lot of providers, particularly in the US (NYT springs to mind) charge for access to archive material. And don’t forget the huge amounts they all make from Lexis Nexis, the journalist’s (very expensive) most potent research tool, so I reckon there must be some kind of cut-off date for stored stories anyway.

  3. Thanks Nick, I’d be very to surprised if most national newspapers weren’t getting at least 50% of their traffic from Google alone.

    If anyone in the know from a newspaper large of small would like to correct me, then I’d be very interested to hear from you.

    I don’t think the Bing Murdoch deal will happen, so to that extent it is irrelevant.

    The archive is you’re right one area where I think newspapers can realistically charge. If I were them, I’d cut out the middle men like Lexis Nexis too.

    Having said that maybe there is the real model for Bing … the only search engine with access to news archive!

  4. Pankaj says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for an interesting read. But the problem for New International is: 25% of all the Internet traffic their media empire receives originates from Google’s search platform.

    With Bing and Yahoo controlling a mere 30% of the market combined, banning Google will see a considerable reducuction in net traffic.

    But it may not be much of a concern for Mr Murdoch as search engine traffic doesn’t pay for much – except earning brand equity perhaps.

    However the real reason seems elsewhere. With Google reportedly refusing to match its generous offer of $900m for exclusive rights to advertise on My Space in 2006, talk of bringing Bing on board may be nothing more of a negotiating tactic.

    Microsoft is desperate to get some search share from Google and, according Steve Ballmer, are willing to spend 20% of their operating profits over the next 5 years ($10bn approx).

    But with declining importance of MySpace lately, Mr Murdoch may need Bing’s money more than the other way around.

    Whichever way the story unfolds, many will be keeping a very close watch.

    Regards
    Pankaj

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