Is allowing Google to index a newspaper’s website “giving it away”

Maybe I’m just missing something, but this Washington Post article, “Zell Wants End to Web’s Free Ride,” doesn’t make sense to me.


“If all of the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be?” Zell said during the question period after his speech. “Not very.”

I’m from the school that sees no logic in that statement. To me, it seems obvious that Google drives traffic to news sites — I can’t read the stories on Google News. To me, even if Zell is correct (and I don’t think he is), then (with an intentionally mixed metaphor) the horse left the barn so long ago that the tooth paste can’t be put back in the tube, even if Zell wanted to.

But Zell is a billionaire and I doubt he’s reading blogs this morning. So perhaps someone should suggest he talk with another billionaire who has spent a few years wrestling with this issue: Patrick McGovern, the founder of IDG and one of the media entrepreneurial icons of the past half-century.

A few years ago, the then-CEO of IDG, Pat Kenealy, created a kerfuffle by suggesting (or, perhaps merely theorizing) something similar to what Zell did. That brief moment in history was recounted in the recent interview with Mark Glaser of the PBS weblog MediaShift, conducted after the recent announcement that the brand Infoworld is ceasing its print magazine version and is going online-only — and that IDG is now a “web-centric” business, not a “print-centric” business.

Quote from the MediaShift interview:

Glaser:Your CEO Patrick Kenealy at one point talked about news aggregators , such as Google News, and didn’t think it was their intellectual property to use snippets of headlines, photos and links. That caused a real stir…

McGovern: Kenealy is now a venture capitalist. [laughs] My first meeting after he left for venture capital was with Eric Schmidt [CEO of Google], and I said, ‘We don’t consider Google to be a competitor; we consider you to be a strategic partner.’

Glaser: Do you feel like Google is a friend or foe?

McGovern: Someone who comes directly to our site has much more business potential than a search engine could deliver. Google does a lot for [boosting] visitor counts but they aren’t as valuable as the core regular visitors. So advertisers will put more value on our regular readers. Some people will use search optimization to play games with Google so that other sites will come up as the place to go for business intelligence software, and won’t be realistic. We think Google is good because it points people to where useful IT information is, and as they become a more consistent buyer, they’ll come back to us. We put a lot of our video content on Google Base so they can sell across that, and we get more views that we can sell [ads] on. We consider them to be a partner and collaborator.

I was going to write more and point back to the many posts I’ve made here that calculate how much of Google’s revenue is, in effect, direct revenue to traditional media via the Adsense program, but I discovered that Jason Calacanis has ripped into Zell rather deftly on his blog so I’ll just point that way and head out the door on a crisp, but beautiful day here in Nashville.

Bonus links: Dave Winer: “Believe it or not I think I understand what he’s saying even though what he literally said makes no sense.”, Doc Searls: “If you don’t want people to read editorial anywhere but on paper, don’t put it on the Web, or embed code that tells search engines not to index it.”, Matthew Ingram: “Either Zell is trying to be deliberately provocative, or he’s a complete ignoramus.”

Another bonus link: Collin Crawford, president & CEO of IDG’s PC World & Macworld: “I suggest Sam Zell and his team quickly adjust their attitude to the internet or they will be joining the dodo.”