By Greg Bensinger and Brian Womack
News Corp. is considering blocking Google’s search engine from displaying its news articles and is talking to Microsoft Corp. about displaying stories on its Bing site, people familiar with the situation said yesterday.
MediaNews Group Inc., the Post’s publisher, will block Google News when it starts charging readers in Pennsylvania and California for online content next year, Chief Executive Officer Dean Singleton said in an interview. Morning News owner A.H. Belo Corp. may introduce online subscription fees and also block Google, Executive Vice President James Moroney said.
“The things that go behind pay walls, we will not let Google search to, but the things that are outside the pay wall we probably will, because we want the traffic,” Singleton said.
Newspaper publishers, grappling with a collapse in the print-ad market, are considering Web-site charges and are pushing back against Google, which displays headlines and excerpts from stories on its free news site. News Corp., whose Wall Street Journal already charges for online subscriptions, has also said that it plans more paid content.
While newspapers have complained about Google using their news to attract users and boost revenue, fewer than 1 percent have opted out of the service, Josh Cohen, head of Google’s news division, said in an interview.
Value in Traffic
A significant number of publishers would have to block access to their content to produce a notable impact on Google’s search results, said Greg Sterling, principal at consulting and research firm Sterling Market Intelligence in San Francisco. “It’s a tree-in-the-forest kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t think people would notice” if a lone publisher took the action.
“There’s value in that traffic and I think publishers recognize that value,” Cohen said. “The reason they’re not opting out is they’re getting something from that relationship.”
Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said in an interview this month that his company, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, would like to keep news providers on its site.
“We do worry about it, and we think it would be a bad outcome” for newspapers to leave Google, Schmidt said. “We would encourage them to stay in our program.”
Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman, declined to comment yesterday on any talks between News Corp. and Microsoft, as well as the other newspapers potentially opting out of Google News.
Murdoch, News Corp.’s chairman and CEO, said in an interview on Sky News Australia this month that he may remove the company’s content from Google searches. The company’s newspapers include the Times of London and the New York Post.
MediaNews, based in Denver, will block Google News from the content it puts behind a so-called pay wall early next year at newspapers in Chico, California, and York, Pennsylvania, Singleton said.
A.H. Belo, based in Dallas, hasn’t decided if it will block Google News and any action isn’t “imminent,” said Moroney, who is also publisher of the Morning News. Blocking Google would be part of a larger strategy, he said.
Belo is considering models for charging for some of its Web content and plans to implement a pay wall within six months at either the Morning News, Rhode Island’s Providence Journal or Riverside Press-Enterprise, published in California, Moroney said. That may require Web readers to go directly to the newspaper’s site to read stories, he said.
“This is traffic that’s not being monetized to any great degree,” Moroney said. “It’s akin to a person who drops into town, buys one copy of your newspaper and leaves town again and yet you spend a whole bunch of time building your business around that type of customer.”
Google, based in Mountain View, California, added 74 cents to $583.09 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Belo jumped 36 cents, or 8.2 percent, to $4.76 on the New York Stock Exchange. MediaNews is closely held.
Google News gathers stories from the Web and displays their headlines, photos and the first few lines with links to the full articles on the original publishers’ Web sites.
Google has also faced international criticism from media companies over the service. In 2007, Belgian newspapers won a copyright suit blocking Google from linking to their articles on Google News.
Fewer than 100 publishers have completely blocked their content from Google News search results, Cohen said.
“You can point back to the traffic that we’re sending and the fact that so few of those publishers have opted out as a pretty strong case that there’s value being delivered back to these publishers,” Cohen said.
Moroney said more publishers are “focused on attracting the really engaged consumers who come multiple times and stay for lots of minutes every time” rather than the casual online reader who happens upon a news site by chance.
U.S. newspaper publishers lost 28 percent of their print and online ad revenue in the third quarter from a year earlier, the Newspaper Association of America reported this month.
To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Bensinger in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org; Brian Womack in San Francisco at email@example.com