That Whining Sound You Hear Is The Death Wheeze Of Newspapers

The newspaper industry is making a lot of noise these days about the Web “stealing” its content and destroying its business. Invariably, the newsmen point their ink-stained fingers at blogs, which are nothing more than “parasites”, or at Google, which is supposedly aiding and abetting in the wholesale theft of the newspaper’s precious words. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal and other fine (and not-so-fine) publications, recently warned that the industry should no longer allow Google “to steal our copyrights.” And yesterday, the A.P. declared all out war against the Internet.

Now, there certainly is wholesale theft going on. It happens to newspapers, it happens to TechCrunch, and it happens to all big publishers on the Web. But don’t be confused. That is not what is going on here. For the most part, it is not the millions of legitimate bloggers who are doing the stealing, and it is not Google either. What is going on here is that the newspaper industry contracted by $7.5 billion last year in the U.S. alone, and it is looking for someone to blame rather than adapt to the new realities of information consumption.

The worst part about their whining is that it is completely hypocritical. While newspaper chiefs are complaining in public about Google, their editorial departments are sprouting blogs and their technology departments are using every SEO trick in the book to make sure their articles show up in Google searches and Google News. As Danny Sullivan points out in beautiful rant, if they really wanted to, any newspaper could stop its content from showing up on Google with one simple line of code:

Get your tech person to change your robots.txt file to say this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Done. Do that, you’re outta Google. All your pages will be removed, and you needn’t worry about Google listing the Wall St. Journal at all.

Oh, but you won’t do that. You want the traffic, but you also want to be like the AP and hope you can scare Google into paying you. Maybe that will work. Or maybe you’ll be like all those Belgian papers that tried the same thing and watched their traffic sadly dry up.

Google points this out today as well. But the newspapers are targeting Google, just like everyone else, because it has the deepest pockets and directs large currents of information and attention on the Web. But, as Sullivan points out, you don’t hear the newspaper industry complaining about Yahoo, even though Yahoo News is much bigger than Google News. Perhaps that is because Yahoo is an advertising partner with 793 newspapers in the U.S. and points its traffic firehose directly at the newspaper’s websites.

The newspapers want the traffic. They just can’t stand it when readers can skim the headlines and a few lines of text on Google or a news aggregator and decide to click elsewhere. Google is the newsstand, as is Digg, TechMeme, Reddit, and any other news filters. If the newspapers and their Websites were the only source of “quality” information, Sullivan suggests they go create their own online newsstand, a Hulu for news. Maybe they could just link to each other.

Then we’d see just how good the newspapers are at creating original reporting (which a few of them are good at, but most of them simply copy each other) and how much readers actually care.