Whither the news industry?

The story has been all over the media: Rupert Murdoch, founder and CEO of the international publisher News Corp, criticized Google for stealing traffic from News Corp newspapers (since people use Google to find the material from, e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a host of other sources — and Google abstracts the sources, places ads next to them, and keeps a good part of the revenue). Social media advocates have commented that this position is like chastising the paper boy for delivering the news paper at your door, and then demanding that he should pay for the privilege.

The next development of the story connects News Corp with Microsoft. Apparently, Microsoft is offering to pay News Corp sources to make their content invisible to Google. According to Dan Lyons of Newsweek, the idea is to drive people from Google to Microsoft’s Bing search engine for the news content they want.

It seems clear to me that there has to be a short-term as well as a long-term perspective in the analysis of these developments.

In the short term, the business agreement supposedly being constructed makes some sort of sense in the larger context of a Google-Microsoft battle. There are probably many other aspects at stake as well, including an upcoming operating-system war between Windows and Chrome OS. (And there are also other business interpretations to consider. Analysts like Paul Carr at TechCrunch see the whole thing as a tactical move mainly aimed at increasing the content owners’ control over how their material is indexed by playing the access providers off against each other to gain support for the Advanced Content Access Protocol.)

From a birds-eye point of view, however, it is rather a question of the most appropriate market position for the professionals who used to be news producers. With production and distribution capacity more evenly distributed in the new media, (at least) two things are bound to happen.

One is that the volume of available news and news-related information on the Internet is going to continue to grow, and grow rapidly.

The other is that the professional competency of assessing, selecting, validating and presenting news information is going to be increasingly demanded when people start resigning to the sheer volume of what is available and potentially interesting out there.

It follows from this argument that the future business models of the news industry will be built on editorial or curatorial services. In current online practices, search engines represent the entry-level editorial service for many users: Search for a word and then read the first couple of search hits. The interesting question from a strategical point of view is how general search engines can evolve into more comprehensive and powerful editorial services along with the information-acquisition strategies of the general public.