More debate has taken place over whether News Corp might be looking to make a deal with Microsoft to use its Bing search engine, if the company goes ahead with its promise to remove its content from Google in the next few months. The Financial Times reported that the two companies have been in discussions, with the impetus for the talks coming from News Corp, and that Microsoft has also approached other big online publishers to persuade them to remove their sites from Google's search engine.
Bing is currently providing little competition to Google in terms of market share and having exclusive news content could help it make progress. Therefore, it has been suggested that Microsoft is prepared to pay publishers to use their content, which could be big news for newspapers: the FT spoke with an unnamed website publisher who had been approached by Microsoft, who said that the plan "puts enormous value on content if search engines are prepared to pay us to index them."
An ideal situation for newspaper publishers could be if Microsoft's move to pay publishers prompted Google to do the same, and both competed for newspapers' business, meaning more favourable prices.
Some media commentators have expressed scepticism, however. PaidContent's Robert Andrews wrote that for a start, a source suggested that there might well not be vast sums of money in this. He also questioned whether web users actually "value news so highly that they would switch search providers." News sites do see a lot of traffic via search, but it is more often by chance than because the user was specifically searching for a news story.
Alan Mutter believes that the figures just don't make sense: Google's market share is so much larger than Bing's that Microsoft would have to pay newspapers a significant amount to make it worth deserting Google, an amount that it would not be worth Microsoft paying. And, he asks, "would newspapers risk slipping further into irrelevance among readers and advertisers by denying their articles to 71% of the world's search traffic?" He thinks that the threats to go with Microsoft are aimed at getting Google to pay, but unfortunately for newspapers, it appears that they need Google more than Google needs them.
The Guardian's Steve Busfield is more positive about such a deal's potential success. He envisages a situation in three years time when, for example, "Sarah Palin's 2012 presidential campaign blows up spectacularly during a heated interview on Fox News" and Bing is the only place where the clip can be found, rather than on YouTube, linked to on Twitter and searchable on Google as it would be today. This would be a win for Microsoft, he suggests, and as users would have to pay to watch it, it would be a win for News Corp. "It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds," he finishes.
A New York Times article strongly expresses the opinion that these discussions should not even be taken place. "If such an arrangement came to pass, it would be a watershed moment in the history of the Internet, and set off a fierce debate over the future of content online," wrote Tim Arango and Ashlee Vance. "The Web's explosive growth has been driven, in part, by the open playing field it represents for consumers and businesses. These discussions could encourage major technology and media companies to start picking sides -- essentially applying the cable TV model to the Web," is their fear. This is hostile to the spirit of the Internet, they believe.
As yet, neither Microsoft nor News Corp have made any official statement on the issue, so it is possible that this speculation will amount to nothing. But for newspaper publishers who believe that Google has been stealing their content, an alternative deal might well be something to think about.