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More emerges on Microsoft's dance with newspapers

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We’ve been doing some more digging on the definitive moves by Microsoft to woo newspapers over to Bing and away from Google, a story we broke two weeks ago.

Since then there have been some follow-up by various media outlets, notably the Financial Times this week which confirmed that Microsoft had had discussions with News Corp to “de-index” its news websites from Google.

Who approached who first? The FT said the impetus came from News Corp, although our information is that Microsoft is also talking to a range of newspaper publishers in Europe as well, such as German publishers like Axel Springer.

So here is what our sources are coming up with.

• There’s also been a lot of speculation about how Microsoft will lure newspapers into Bing. Money talks, obviously, and we understand that the payments could be a) part in revenue share from advertising on Bing b) the inclusion of news partners in adverts for Bing. In other words, you’d start to see ads with “You’ll only find The Wall Street Journal on Bing.com” etc.

• We understand that Rupert Murdoch and Steve Ballmer spoke directly to eachother in the days before Murdoch released the bombshell that he was considering blocking Google from the WSJ.com and his other news sites, even though Google accounts for about 25 percent of the traffic to the WSJ.com.

• Despite their delight that there is finally a search engine in the market willing to take on Google’s preeminence, Newspaper publishers still have issues with the whole Bing idea. Our sources argue that Bing could jeopardise any standing it has as an agnostic or neutral search engine if it gets into the game of picking and choosing which newspapers should have premium positions on its News service, and paying some but not others for their content. That could backfire both on Bing, but more importantly on the newspapers that would rather sit above that kind of association, especially where they are concerned that readers will wonder about their editorial independence.

• Our original story revealed the previously unkown information that Microsoft had made noises about funding research and engineering into ACAP, the more granular version of the robots.txt protocol proposed by publishers to enable them to have a more sophisticated response to search engine crawlers, to the tune of about will put £100,000. It appears that there have been “no formal communications” back to the European Publishers Council as yet.

Lastly, aside from all this, research emerged this week which gave a glimpse of what impact withdrawing newspapers from Google would have on Google’s bottom line. The answer was very little.

A German survey attempted to find out what the effect on Google would be if almost 1,000 domains from German publishers left Google, after 148 publishers signed a declaration in Hamburg to protest against Google’s “financial exploitation.”

The result was that a search on Google Germany – based on a survey using more than a million keywords – showed that only five percent of the top 10 results came from the German news organisations, and these were even publishers co-operating with Google.

In other words, the economic effect on Google of these publishers withdrawing would be negligible.

A bigger effect would come if Wikipedia – built by volunteers – would disappear, with 13 percent of the number-one results vanishing, said TRG, the research company that ran the survey.

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