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Rupert Murdoch's Serious Internet Strategy

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It's not all sour grapes that has Rupert Murdoch suggesting News Corp will eventually pull its content out of Google once it converts users to a paying basis. Listening to the interview with Sky News political editor, David Speers, in which Murdoch laid out his plan to withdraw News Corp content to within paying boundaries, Murdoch makes clear that it's all about getting serious online.

Murdoch observes that very few (actually, he says, "no web sites anywhere in the world") make serious money. Likewise, he observes that "search people" - i.e., visitors to News Corp content that arrive by search engine - are not loyal readers of content. Ergo, they are not serious.

Therein may lay the calculation Murdoch and News Corp are doing in connection with their strategy to get consumers to pay for content and, then, deny access to all the non-paying transient onlookers who come courtesy of Google. The strategy advocates a retreat to defensible, higher value positions. As everyone has freely (no pun) pointed out it means much smaller audiences. But Murdoch's comments suggest that News Corp has taken this into account and it doesn't care. What have big audiences and an over-abundance of inventory given to the world but ad networks and lower prices? It's time to get serious. It's time to get back to business.

The issue of "serious money" is an important one. It has confounded traditional media companies online since the beginning. Plenty of money flows through plenty of big web sites, but the end results in terms of profitability have been underwhelming, certainly in Murdoch's view. For many of the Internet's largest players it has been equally disheartening to ponder a future full of exertions to grow traffic by relying on competitive third-parties, while struggling to raise advertising prices in an ocean of inventory. As Murdoch asserts, there is not enough advertising to go around for any web site to make serious money.

There are two ways to chase after serious money as a publisher, however, and one of them is to be small. Having tried big, Murdoch may be coming to terms with the alternative.

The media world has been addicted to "big" for years. Big has meant serious money thanks to advertising. But, that hasn't translated online where smaller, independent publishers capable of generating $1 million per year in revenue out of a spare office thrive, while large publishers huffing and puffing to do 50x - 75x that amount feel unfulfilled.

Online there is, in fact, plenty of advertising to go around allowing many, many publishers to feel like they are making serious money. The Internet landscape is dominated by those publishers, and collectively they are changing the rules, agreeing to work for lower prices and agreeing to be positively delighted with sales results that wouldn't keep News Corp in corporate jet fuel for a week.

At the same time the advertising community is slowly, but surely, shedding its own dependence on big. Ad networks have left one positive impression, which is that it is possible to aggregate many sites online for less and see results that are equal to or better than what $30 CPMs on big sites may have delivered. The taste left by some ad network experiences was bitter, but the implications of a freer, more open, and more targeted market have broken-through.

Most publishers couldn't survive without Google and other search engines to direct people to their web sites; nor could most Internet users, which should assure the market of free and open access to search engines of one sort or another for many years to come. News Corp, however, has considerable resources of its own to drive traffic to it web properties. It may not be the sort of traffic that earns it a top 10 or even top 20 position among its peers, but perhaps they've stopped caring. Perhaps big isn't quite so important in their calculations anymore. Having experienced the tiresome affects of being big online perhaps Murdoch is getting serious about Internet strategy.

And he may be right. Seriously.