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article imageOp-Ed: Digital publishing gets rough — Murdoch vs Google and Facebook

By Paul Wallis     Oct 4, 2017 in Business
Sydney - Rupert Murdoch doesn’t mince many words, and he’s had a few issues with Google and Facebook in the past. He objected to Google as a “news aggregator” some years ago. He’s now also taking issue with Facebook’s publishing market share.
Murdoch is now describing as “market abuse” the practices of the two tech behemoths. He claims they’re using their market position to stifle competition. Murdoch also argues that the big techs are affecting the behaviour of the market, simply because of their market reach.
That’s a fair argument on face value, and he’s definitely not alone. Ironically, many “left” organisations and pundits have been saying the same thing. That’s not exactly a full-blown argument, though, from Murdoch or the other critics. In the global market, the difference between giants and minnows is a major divider. News Corp is certainly no minor player, but it’s not global in the same sense or market contexts as Google and Facebook.
To be strictly fair, News Corp HAS evolved itself out of its old business model to a very large extent. That said, News Corp is also largely responsible for its own market position, which naturally affects market behaviour:
1. The “conservatives only” position which News Corp has had for years can have only so much shelf life. The days of Bill O’Reilly-vintage product are ending.
2. In the same context, limited range in a market also means self-limiting market reach. The same old message doesn’t work with new audiences. It can’t. You might as well be talking about celebrity dinosaurs.
3. Market dominance, as News Corp should know from its own experience, is a mixed blessing. At the same time that Google is dominating, for example, one of their cash cows, digital ads, is hitting a market full of much lower returns. That’s hitting News Corp too, in a slightly different way, but hitting revenue. It means that the “dominance” also carries some heavy baggage in terms of market performance.
Digital market evolution at work?
While Murdoch does have his points, there’s another option in this mix. It’s not at all unlikely that the market is evolving in some new way. The ad blockers plague in recent years should have been a signal to someone, and obviously wasn’t. Round the clock selling to people who want to watch things or read things is NOT working. The targeting is also Amateur Hour standard, even ridiculous in some cases. These failures are cascading through the publishing industry in highly destructive ways.
Too much glut
Publishers also might want to look at their seriously overloaded pages. Do you really want to scroll through 50 pages of something, page by page, getting bombarded with hundreds of ads? This is also called “content fragmentation” and it’s had its day. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if you create an advertising-saturated obstacle course for it. People simply will not stick around for more unnecessary visual garbage, and you won’t get too many click-throughs, either.
Remember when mobile was the only way to go? That’s where everyone dutifully went, and surprise, surprise, there was only so much real traction in the mobile market. Publishers should be delivering value, not just ads.
Content, of course, is the other side of the picture. Neither Google nor Facebook can be accused of high quality standards of content. If it fits on a page, that’s good enough to become content, however appalling and uninteresting.
Murdoch of all people knows the value of news on all possible levels. I think the problem for publishers is systemic, delivering the wrong products to the market by sheer force of habit. I would suggest that “news” now means real news, new information, new areas of interest, and new values in terms of practical uses of that information. People don’t search for useless things. They sure won’t buy them, or spend much time clicking around.
The choice between “interesting and useful” and “comatose and useless” isn’t hard to make. It’s now being made in a fraction of a second, and this is where publishers can expect a lot of fan-hitting to happen.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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