Photo copyright of Paul Teixeira
Microsoft is ready to pay Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to remove its news content from Google, according to the Financial Times. Microsoft has also approached other "big online publishers" with similar deals.
"One website publisher approached by Microsoft said that the plan 'puts enormous value on content if search engines are prepared to pay us to index with them",' wrote the FT's Matthew Garrahan. "... Microsoft's interest is being interpreted as a direct assault on Google because it puts pressure on the search engine to start paying for content."
This he calls a "ray of light to the newspaper industry."
Now, every site in Google is currently there by choice. As it could conceivably change its mind and shank Balldock and Murmer with fair use, let's assume that they're planning on exclusivity. End-user license agreements, paywalls, spider-blocking, that sort of thing. Maybe even encryption and plugins and other delights. Sayonara, RSS!
In any case, participating publishers have to become invisible to search engines who don't pay up. Think of all the gambles encoded in that decision: that the U.S. ad market won't rebound enough to go it alone. That subsidized foreign competitors like the BBC aren't a domestic threat. That people will change their surfing habits to find them. And so on.
But there's one gamble which does make some twisted sense: that Microsoft is an irrational consumer. It's easy to believe that it may spew senseless riches into publishers' pockets, radically distorting the news market, just to spite Google. In this case, Murdoch could be wringing cash out of a market he knows is doomed to implosion or assimilation. And he doesn't even have to be an evil genius, either: he just has to be smarter than Steve Ballmer.