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Do Internet micropayments emit enough of a siren song?


By: Scott Bradner


A number of people in the news business seem to hate Google.  a few years ago newspapers in Belgium sued Google to get Google to stop telling the world about them and just last week the editor of the Wall Street Journal called Google a parasite.  Me thinks the Journal editor doth protest too much.  In addition, Google may be getting ready to offer newspapers a tool that may speed the newspapers demise.

In an interview published in The Australian, (found using Google News) Robert Thomson, the editor of the Wall Street Journal went on a real anti-Google rant.  He said "[t]here is no doubt that certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet" and "It's certainly true that readers have been socialised -- wrongly I believe -- that much content should be free," and "And there is no doubt that's in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognise the value they are trading on that's created by others."  Strong words.  But The Journal's actions speak louder than their words.  The Journal could easily install a robots.txt file to stop Google from including the Wall Street Journal in Google news ( but it looks like they have not done so since Journal articles are included.  The Journal might argue that they should not have to do anything and it should be up to Google to ask permission first, as the newspapers in Belgium argued ( a few years ago.  But its is my guess that the Journal put doors and locks on its One World Financial Center office in New York and they may even pay guards to keep the riff-raff out - so they do understand the concept of not being passive when it comes to keeping people out.

Mr. Thomson does make at least one good point in the interview.  He points out that "Google argues they drive traffic to sites, but the whole Google sensibility is inimical to traditional brand loyalty."  I have to agree with that point even though an Internet user is taken to a web page on the Wall Street Journal web site when they click on a Google provided URL.  A web page where the Journal can put up its own ads, or even block access since the Journal has erected pay walls around a lot of its content.  In spite of this I expect that many users will not really notice where they are. 

Google may be getting ready to introduce a tool that many news organizations seem to think they want -- micro payments.  This would let newspapers charge users to read individual articles.  (   The Google micro payment scheme, linked to Google Checkout, may avoid some of the pitfalls that caused earlier micro payment schemes to fall by the wayside. (see The Siren Song of Internet Micropayments -  But introducing micro payments may just hasten the demise of the newspapers that embrace it unless all other sources of "free" (or advertising supported) news suddenly disappear.  Why go through the bother of paying, even a little, when you can find out the same info in other ways?


The Siren Song of Internet Micropayments, as Crocker put it, may make some news organizations to embrace, if not love, Google, but, in the end, it may be a fatal attraction.


disclaimer: I expect, without specific knowledge, that Harvard's Greek literature department waxes eloquently about siren songs, but I know of no university opinion on newspapers wanting to hide their light from the searching world.