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In Poker Game with Murdoch, Google Plays its "Restricting Free" Card

As news broke yesterday that Google had made a "concession" to publishers by changing its rules to limit the number of stories the search giant will display daily for free from paid content sites to five, I had to struggle to suppress a smile.

As an old poker player myself (albeit not always a very good one) I sensed a bluff from the guys down in Mountainview.

Meanwhile, the other major player in the game, Rupert Murdoch, was continuing his relentless attack on Google (though not by name) before a Federal Trade Commission hearing in Washington, D.C. Here's the relevant excerpt via a Financial Times report:

  • His speech included another attack on online news aggregators and others "who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production". The "wholesale misappropriation" or "theft" of professionally produced news had led to an untenable situation "where content creators bear all the costs, while aggregators enjoy many of the benefits," he said.
As I was comparing these reports, a panel called "Is There a Media Business?" was just getting underway at the Supernova 09 conference in downtown San Francisco.

Moderator Lisa Stone (BlogHer) asked the panelists what they thought was going on in the Murdoch-Google exchange.

"Murdoch is posturing for the markets," offered Jim Griffin (Warner Music).

Cory Ondrejka, (co-founder, Second Life) was equally blunt: "Google is handing a gun to mainstream media, and saying, 'Here you go. Shoot yourself."

Griffin added that traditional publishers, like all legacy business operators, are facing a kind of "Tarzan Economics," whereby they have to decide "when to let go of the olf vine and grab hold of the new vine" in terms of their business models.

He also noted that "Google has the crowd, and the crowd means power."

Translated back into poker terms, that means Google is holding the cards in this facedown. If publishers like Murdoch really want to restrict both Google Search and Google News from indexing their paid content and thereby restrict the massive audience streams they currently are sending them, they can "opt-out" completely, as has always been the case.

Or now, there is an additional option to restrict the number of articles available per day to five.

We'll see which card Murdoch chooses to play next here. Will he "blink" and embrace this new restrictive offering from Google?

It's your move, Mr. Mogul.

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