Wish We'd Thought Of It First Department

Posted by: Jon Fine on November 28, 2005

While I was gone last week, Slate.com’s Jack Shafer posted this amazing future autopsy on where Google went wrong.

While in Shafer’s scenario both Amazon and Google hubris play a key role in Google’s fall, the first shot to puncture Google’s aura of invincibility is Rupert Murdoch’s:

But then the recently re-Webified Rupert Murdoch of News Corp.—a media revolutionary always a step ahead of his peers—arrived to buy Knight Ridder and the newspaper properties of the stagnating Tribune Company (Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, et al.) and built the national classified database to end all national classified databases. He allowed customers to have classified ads their way: They could get them free or paid and sell the goods or services at set prices or by auction; they could have them displayed in a News Corp. paper, on the News Corp. Web site, on cell phones, and in podcasts, or any combination of the above. He could also send data from his DirecTV platform in space or by using slivers of his conventional TV stations on earth. Pricing was determined by who the customer was, what they were selling, how much they were willing to pay for placement, and whether they wanted to upload a video of the thing they were selling. Google Base stumbled, and eBay acquired the rest of craigslist in a fluster to catch up.

Next, Rupe fused MySpace.com, another savvy acquisition, into the network to expand its reach to the young people who refuse to read the newspaper. Then he rescued the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, and the Gannett and Hearst chains by inviting their classified pages to join his combine—for free. He hadn’t turned altruist in his old age but was acting on the theory that the larger his network, the more valuable the individual pieces. (Murdoch could always come back and buy out the demoralized and starving Grahams, Sulzbergers, and Hearsts with his fabulous profits. He had time. He was a young 77.) He took his classified network international by integrating his London Timeses and his U.K. tabloids as well as his BSkyB satellite TV system, adding his Australian media properties and continental newspapers, too.

Like the Apple iTunes operation only bigger, RupeWeb was a sort of “Club Web.” Its content was for members only and invisible to the Web spiders of Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc. (Some people call this kind of Web the “invisible” or “deep” Web.) Many RupeWeb users started helping themselves to the new search engine he had purchased in his acquisition of Lycos. Capitalizing on plummeting hard-disk prices, faster processors, growing bandwidth, and sleek new algorithms, the RupeGrab search engine ran loops around Google. People didn’t even seem to mind that RupeGrab billed its search results as “Fair and Balanced.”

RupeWeb immediately put a bite into Google’s billions-of-dollars-a-quarter AdSense and AdWords advertising platforms…

Of the many delights contained within this very smart piece, this one’s my favorite: The casting of Murdoch as the white-hat who swoops in to save newspaper journalism.

It’s true that Murdoch, the consummate big-city newspaperman, has soured on dailies. But what’s neat about the Shafer scenario is that it puts newspapers in the context of a very big, very Murdochian multimedia content play. As such, there’s one thing this piece has that most thumbsucking columns playing with imaginative big-picture scenarios: A ring of plausiblity.

Reader Comments

John Voelcker

November 29, 2005 3:52 PM

Haven't read the full Slate piece; for some reason, even after I watch the damn ads, I can't get their Daypass to work on my PC. So thanks for summarizing/excerpting.

I like this scenario, but I think newspapers will have to get a LOT more desperate before the individual fiefdoms break down enough to let papers join the "RupeWeb". It's what SHOULD be done ... but look at the failures of New Century Network and so many other similar ventures.

Desperation may eventually lead the newspapers to this, but IMHO it'll take 5 more years of truly AWFUL financial results. What was the timing on his future?

Jon Fine

December 1, 2005 2:30 AM

Given today's news that Microsoft is now looking at free classifieds, the timetable on when newspapers get truly desperate may have just ticked forward a few years.

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The media world continues to shapeshift as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. On this blog, Bloomberg Businessweek will provide sharp analysis and timely reports on the transformation of this constantly changing terrain.

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