Badda Bing! Microsoft woos newspapers by funding their stick to beat Google

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As Microsoft shed its beta tag for the launch of the UK version of Bing today, TechCrunch Europe has learnt that it held a secret meeting with a group of big European publishers, mainly newspapers.

The meeting came literally days after Rupert Murdoch said he was considering withdrawing his vast newspaper empire from Google’s index, despite the possibility of losing a lot of traffic.

What was discussed provides a glimpse of what newspaper publishers may do next, and how Bing will collude in this new war on Google.

We’ve confirmed with our sources that on Tuesday this week, Microsoft’s Peter Bale, Executive Producer of MSN UK, walked into the meeting flanked by two Microsoft lawyers. He made a presentation to representatives of newspaper publishers such as the Financial Times, News International, Associated Newspapers, Germany’s Axel Springer and publishers from Poland and Italy, among others. Bale is possibly the perfect man for the job – a respected, well liked former journalist who headed up the Times Online before jumping to MSN. As such he is Microsoft’s point man when it comes to talking to big publishers.

From what we understand from our sources, the pitch was clear. Microsoft plans to launch an assault on Google’s flank, by cosying up to major content providers, especially newspapers, that feel hard done by Google News. It plans to use Bing as a way to entice them out of the Google eco-system, into one where, increasingly, the content of major newspapers could well be found more often on Bing than on Google.

First off, Bing plans to put its money where it’s mouth is. Our sources say Microsoft has pledged to help fund research and engineering into ACAP to the tune of about will put £100,000. This is the more granular version of the robots.txt protocol which has been proposed by publishers to enable them to have a more sophisticated response to search engine crawlers. However, we understand that Microsoft won’t be involved in developing the protocol, just the financial funding.

For years, Google has characterised the debate about search engines as “you are either in our index or not in it, there is no half-way house.” But the Automated Content Access Protocol (“ACAP”) proposes a far more layered response, allowing full access or just access to some content of a site. Unsurprisingly, it’s been developed by a consortium of the World Association of Newspapers, European Publishers Council and International Publishers Association. Proposed in 2006, it has been criticised as being biased towards publishers rather than search engines, specifically Google, and few non-ACAP members have adopted the protocol. Some call it the “DRM of newspaper web sites”. That said some 1,600 traditional publishers have signed up to using ACAP.

But if Bing starts to play ball with ACAP, this could change the game. Suddenly newspapers will have a stick, and a heavyweight enforcer in the shape of Bing, with which to beat Google. Google would have a choice – either recognise the ACAP protocol in order to get some level of access to newspaper sites, or just ignore it.

Back to that meeting in London, and during the discussion our sources say Bale talked about the possibility of giving big print publishers ‘premium positions’ on the Bing search engine. However, there is little detail on how this would work in practice or what revenue share would apply.

A further point of potential conflict is how Bing dolls out the search sweets to publishers. Our sources tell us that Italian and Polish publishers were hopping mad that the Bing European rollout – which started with the UK this week – will likely concentrate on the big European markets like France and Germany while leaving smaller markets to a much later stage.

In addition, the rise of the ACAP protocol could well signal new battles. The question is, will ACAP – the development of which is so far being controlled by newspapers – be used by Microsoft Bing simply as an indicator of how to treat a publisher’s site? Or would Microsoft help the publishers engineer ACAP into a kind of a rights management engine – with Bing becoming the central clearing house for content from traditional publishers? That’s not the case at the present, of course, as Bing wants to be a trusted partner. But it’s worth asking if it could happen in the future.

And who gets to decide who is a favoured traditional publisher and who isn’t? Bing, or a newspaper-heavy body like the European Publishers Council? By the sounds of how discussions went this week, it’ll probably come down to a simple question: do you have a big printing press, or don’t you?
We contacted Microsoft for comment but a spokesperson said that they had “no comment” to make.

  • Nice one Mike

    Quality graphic.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      I am so bad at graphics.

      • Marcelo Negrini

        Really bad, did you use Windows Paint? Great article, though. ;-)

      • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

        Graphic Converter. The choice of kings.

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  • http://www.danieldirico.com Daniel DiRico

    Continued competition in the search engine arena can only lead to better things in my opinion. In this case, potential benefits towards publishers.

    • Arnab

      you mean anti consumer benifits! seriously! bing can take their big publisher’s and go to hell! I would rather read my news from small publishers. There are a hell lot of them giving all kinds of news with all kinds of viewpoints.

      • http://www.incspear.com Jay

        “There are a hell lot of them giving all kinds of news with all kinds of viewpoints.”

        how many of those are fairly accurate and business worthy? and how many of those news use those big media as based source?

        that’s what you guys ignoring every single time, coin has two side…. google or those small publishers are not news agencies , they use content from new companies… this not easy as you think my friend….

      • Kev

        This seems like a confused and foolish punt. Google got where it was today by priding itself on the quality of it’s indexing. They crawl the site and use their engine to determine what’s relevant to the user’s search. Not partially crawl certain keywords that the publisher wants crawled or whatever the ACAP proposition is. Same goes for the offer of “premium positions” in results for their allies in the war against GOOG.

        Bing is only a few months old and already Microsoft are selling out every which way. Why not compete with Google on the quality of results like they promised to do from the beginning?

        And, TBH, provided The Guardian keeps its fantastic open APIs I’m sorted for 90% of my news.

      • HTY

        [quote]how many of those are biased towards Microsoft and have recieved the Microsoft´s “stamp of approval”?
        [/quote]
        There I fixed it for you.

      • http://www.danieldirico.com Daniel DiRico

        See this post to see what I’m referring to by search competition being a good thing:

        http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/11/13/murdoch-google-bing-mexicanstandoff/

      • http://blog.cleartrip.com Hrush

        People who say they would rather read their news from small publishers are clueless — Do small publishers have armies of investigative journalists or do they have 2-3 people in an office editorialising and rehashing what big publishers have released?

    • dumb

      MS has been fighting for search market hard and couldn’t hold a firm grip…and now trying to play ‘do evil’…hmm…

      So far MS has done a lot harm than good to computing industry because of its version based business model by blocking us from going forward (restart every 2 to 3 years interval) and now it is becoming an obstacle from getting some kind of real advancement in the Internet by trying to introduce a business model that would have a lot damage than benefit for all of us.

      If this becomes a reality, then this will lead to a path where search results will be prioritized based on who has exclusive partner ship over those who don’t have that privilege regardless of other factors. This is ridiculous, if you lose a competition why you would make things worse…go and do something that would make our life much better.

      Greed….

  • http://www.fiscalstudent.com fiscalstudent

    Very risky game the publishers are playing. Bing’s market share worldwide is only 3.25% (September 09) . Do they really want to lose all that traffic? Also I’m sure there are many people out there such as me who have google as their homepage and won’t change to Bing just for news from a particular outlet

    • Jim

      Big news papers does not need Google. Google needs them.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    A couple of quick thoughts…

    It’s not just about Google News. It’s Google in general that pushes so much traffic. So if MSN/Bing is saying hey, drop Google News and be with us, less of an impact if those publishers are still going to stay within Google Web Search as well — both to them and Google. Where it hurts Google, of course is that for a spiking news query, they potentially won’t have fresh content as fast.

    ACAP overstates that it’s “in or out.” Much of ACAP’s layers are things you can do with robots.txt. The key difference with ACAP is simply that ACAP introduces a means to license out permissions for things that Google and others don’t believe you need permissions for.

    So Google would have to recognize ACAP? Only if:

    1) Google is blocked by robots.txt, completely blocked (which is doable)

    2) Google agrees to licensing terms that can then be implemented in ACAP. Which would, I assume, follow on Bing agreeing to such terms

    And those terms, oh my head. Is there a clearinghouse for all these publications, to negotiate them. ACAP does nothing like that, at the moment.

    Don’t forget. Google has existing licensing agreements with a wide variety of wire services. Yahoo News has gotten by just fine (apparently) by primarily focusing wire content. Google could continue do the same and some of these folks may find the wires win, they lose. We’ll see.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      Thanks for passing by Danny, fantastic stuff.

  • alex

    google should just vent..lol bing is making big moves!! http://www.ventnation.com

  • jon

    it does sound as mentioned in the post “DRM for newspapers”.
    that isn’t good, isn’t good at all

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    […] only hasten the demise of most of Murdoch’s rivals. Unless, of course, part of the plan is to turn to Bing instead and sell exclusive indexing rights for gobs of cash. It’s a risky move, however, […]

  • http://elvin.ro elvin

    I am with Arnab.
    Who needs news BIG news sites? We have tons of websites like TechCrunch :) And thanks to them we have all the news at our feet.

    If advertising model dont works for you, then you try to get $$ from readers, eventually you end up on torrents or other pirate sites. FAIL!

    AND The good side of this: More readers to blogs.

    GOGO TechCrunch!

  • http://pricechirp.com sevatt

    What percentage of Google’s requests go the the big media newspapers sites? What percentage of the big media’s traffic is derived from Google? I truly wonder who’s bottom line would be hit harder.

    I’d love to see Google call their bluff and de-index a few of the big boys for a month. All the way down to not pointing to their home pages when I user searches for thir name. This way everyone can see what life without google would be like.

  • killerbunny

    “collude”?

    Them’s fighting words! Seriously, this pact with big publishers will backfire. Bing has such small search share that it will lead to a drastic drop in hits to the websites of the publishers. Consequently, these publishers won’t be able to fetch as high of rates for their embedded ads. They’ll be begging to come back?

  • http://www.sweetspotmarketing.com Kevin Pike

    I’ll admit, I was blinded by the “Bing”.

    The veil between “Bing” and the “real Microsoft” is gone now. Back in June at SMX Advanced, Bing was new, it was cool, they had free t-shirts and the PR message was it was going to be a decision engine for people.

    My decision, is to keep content free and let companies like News Corp either evolve or get out of the way.

    Bing is Microsoft and Microsoft is Bing. Less we forget, because of some different marketing hype.

  • http://www.ip-seo.com Sam

    So will Bing turn into a Newspaper search site? If the bing searcher knows that all the results will be publisher-centric why will he go there to find “local plumber” when all we will get is articles about plumbers?

    My money is on Google.

  • http://www.davebroham.com davebroham

    Interesting, but I still don’t see how Google loses if the publishers block them. I would like to see a health micro-payment ecosystem develop on the net though.

  • http://www.backtype.com/MichaelADeBose MichaelADeBose

    If your internet property is of interest people either go directly to it or they need a search to point the way to your exact URL. I agree that people who go to a site to read a specific post and then leave are not money makers necessarily for web properties as I think Rupert Murdoch pointed out. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from them. I check Arstechnica, BBCNews, Techcrunch, NYT, BaselineScenario, PlanetMoney and several other properties/blogs several times a day. I found each of them either because they were mentioned by someone else online or through a search for something I can’t recall. After nearly 15 years on the internet and probably thousands of post on sites that I read in part or full and websites that I’ve since forgotten about, why these sites?

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I try my local paper often, but even being a voracious reader have found that it doesn’t interest me either online or in person. Yes I buy it occasionally because its the home team. As an up and coming tycoon, I have often attempted the WSJ but guess what, it just doesn’t stick. That’s not to say that I’m a case study, but it is interesting that after nearly a decade of Tom’s Hardware and Arstechnica, I wasn’t surprised when they were picked up.

    My point is, if your circulation has been in decline longer than there’s been a poor economy, maybe you should start there. When Congress, all of education and the book industry are saying reading is down as a past time and/or academic pursuit, you could throw that in too. It’s not a good idea to blame the internet for all that ills you when you can’t accept that even the best business models eventually all get retired and at some point in every businessman’s life, there’s come a point where you have to accept that monday has come or tuesday and the party IS over, which is fine because as long as this planet keeps turning, next Saturday is around the corner.

    What Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the Big Content continuum need to do is first accept that there are websites that gain new readership everyday through search engines. What first needs investigation is what makes content compelling! What translates one post or three into a bookmark? That is the question they should be searching for. Secondly, pun intended I wouldn’t begin my quest with the guy that lost: Bing.

  • Peter

    Good luck to them (no sarcasm whatsoever)! Just the other day I was thinking literally the same thing – robots.txt is not sufficient as a protocol for protecting content.

    In privacy policies, for example, web site owners outline not only WHAT is collected but also HOW this information is going to be used. By comparison, robots.txt is a rather crude tool with only two states: On and Off. I imagine, more and more content owners will want to stipulate the acceptable uses of their content.

    People clamoring for a free-for-all are typically not those devoted to production of any content (other than their Facebook stream of consciousness). Developing content costs money and *a lot* of effort. The owners should at the very least have some control over how it’s used.

    • Wayne

      The content owners have another option: build their own outlet for the content. By investing the resources into developing and promoting an outlet they can determine exactly how the content is used.

      If they do not want to invest the resources they have no legitimate reason to complain about the options available.

      • killerbunny

        Content producers should be able to distribute their product however they wish. Outsourcing distribution to a search engine is as valid an outlet option as any.

      • Teulon

        I am not sure if your response was in agreement or disagreement.

        Sure it is a valid option, but if you use the search engine as a method of distribution you either need to agree with the terms or negotiate new ones. If Google is not open to negotiation then the option is to agree or walk.

      • Peter

        Right, of course! Just like you can build your own hydroelectric plant to heat your home.

        This is a false alternative. Realistically, nobody is able to invest on the scale of Google. That doesn’t mean to have the right to do whatever the heck they want with other people’s content.

      • Teulon

        Isn’t that what Hulu did? To say that nobody can do it is false, they just lack the commitment or the vision.

        With your example if I didn’t like the hydro electric plant’s rules I could put up my own solar panels and cut back on my power consumption. Sure there is a point where Government gets involved that I cannot get around.

        Everyone has a choice, even if they do not like what the choices are.

  • Bob

    Do you mind, when you do reporting (which is I think what this site does), providing references for your quotes?

    Other than wikipedia, who criticized it as being biased?

    Who called it “DRM of newspaper sites”?

    I’m not disagreeing with either of these characterizations of ACAP, I’d just like to know who is saying these things.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      It’s a general desrciption used by some people, it’s not a direct quote, perhaps the quote marks are misleading? I apologise if that’s the case.

      • TCCritic

        No need to apologise Mike. Never has the world seen an Englishman apologise sincerely anyway (I don’t count Gordon’s apology for his messy handwriting and besides he’s Scotish).

        Just edit the article and drop the quotation marks (not quote marks).

  • Rob

    Microsoft and it’s 3rd string Bing search engine teaming up with newspapers is like dinosaur’s mating. The end is near.

    • TCCritic

      I never trust comments from people who can’t spell its.

    • TCCritic

      Or dinasaurs’ mating.

      • http://www.newsforce.com Dana Todd

        @TCCritic – Mike Butcher can’t spell either (it’s/its, doll/dole). Probably best to just not trust anything you read on the internet, unless it’s fully sourced and verified. Like Wikipedia.

        {sarcasm}

      • kerstin reynolds

        @Dana Todd

        The internet is prone to sources that dominate through scale and activity which is self perpetuating and undemocratic. You end up with sources which are ungrammatic and cannot spell as the main information providers for society. Just like government really, which cannot spell or write a grammatically correct letter.

      • Pete Austin

        slow comments day

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