Roop, have you tried using the web without Google?

NORMAN GILLER’s dug up more confidential information from inside the wire at Wapping, and offers Rupert Murdoch some advice about his online charging plans

My News International moles inform me that it is the lawyers rather than the journalists who have put a delaying handbrake on plans to charge for online access to Murdoch’s worldwide stable of newspapers. The legal eagles need more time to follow Murdoch’s contentious orders to block Google-type search engines, and D-Day has been put back from June to – at the earliest – an autumn 2010 launch.

Looking on from the sidelines, I would say there is madness afoot in the Murdoch empire. Have none of Rupert’s army of advisers had the courage to stand up and tell him that in throttling the likes of Google, they will be cutting off the lines of supply to their websites?

Somebody needs to say: “Excuse me, Roop, we need Google on our side not against us. You are literally shooting the messenger.”

If his minions do not have the balls to tell Murdoch he is making a mistake, they have permission to drop this blog into his “in” tray. Go on, I dare you. I want Roop to prove that the internet can be made to pay, but this is not the way and he needs to be told before he wastes millions in a futile exercise.

My regular reader will recall that last month I broke the story that sport content was to be the lynchpin traffic-driver for selling subscriptions for The Times, Sunday Times, News of the World and The Sun. It reported of confidential in-house memos outlining the plan for a division of Sky Sports to be set up to provide exclusive and breaking sports news videos to the webmasters for instant broadcast on the paid-for newspaper sites.

I have no idea how surfing savvy Murdoch is, but as I spend hours on the internet waves, I consider myself an expert on the subject. Never have I paid a penny to dip into a website, even finding ways to watch my porn free (Note to Ed: I thought I would spice it up a bit to hold the interest of my reader).

Each day I have the New York Times delivered free to my desktop, and a cracking read it is too. But if ever they decide to start charging again for the service, I will not pay a cent. I will toddle off and get my news fix on one of the thousands of other American websites.

Murdoch has been blistering in his bombardment against Google, making accusations of kleptomonia and acting as a parasite. While this might be true in Murdoch’s eyes, to the average surfer Google is the navigation tool that points them in the direction of the sort of information offered by his newspapers.

If The Times or The Sun do not show up in Google searches, then nobody will find them. What Joseph Heller would describe as a classic case of Catch 22.

I am now reliably informed that there are almost as many lawyers working on the NI switch to online payments as journalists. Not only do they have the all-out war on Google and Co on their hands, but the plan to use sport as a main hook for subscribers is proving a copyright minefield.

The idea for SkySports to provide action clips to show online for subscribers and as downloads is great in theory, but suddenly lawyers representing the major sports associations are studying the small print of their contracts. “Uh, excuse me,” I hear from Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Run, “where does it mention a service for online subscribers?”

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I have been in heartfelt debate with Dominic Ponsford, entrepreneurial editor of the Press Gazette. I receive his excellent daily news brief with useful links to the big media stories of the day (will that be allowed under the Murdoch gagging orders?).

Dominic is urging his online readers to subscribe to the printed version of Press Gazette. It is the News International problem in a nutshell. I enjoy and devour my free, electronically delivered Gazette, but in miserly Scrooge fashion, I refuse to dip into my pocket for something that (in the main) I can get for nothing.

Here’s your problem, Roop: I think News International columnists like Jeremy Clarkson, Simon Barnes and Rod Liddle are exceptional writers. But would I pay online to read them? Nope.

Note to Roop: By providing links above to your three columnists, we’re not actually “nicking” their content from them or from you, but simply offering our reader the opportunity to check out your premium offerings. So should we be charging you, Roop, for such a service?

When The New York Times tried putting their precious star columnists behind a pay wall, suddenly they were the Great Unread. The experiment was abandoned amidst the wreckage of bruised egos, but not quickly enough to stop a barrage of free-to-read blogs being set up by rivals.

News International writers are being dragged (some of them kicking and screaming) into the world of Twitter, which is one of the modern weapons they will use to publicise their paid-for columns. They are being furnished with Twitter-friendly palm phones. One of my moles described it as “the blind leading the bland”.

But it is the publicity, competition and promotion departments that are under most pressure to make the pay-to-play plans work. Subscribers will be tempted with online games, huge prizes, cut-price offers and downloaded goodies, and they will be supported by a promotional blitz throughout the printed newspapers and on Sky.

Most of the major planning is being done Down Under, and there are small armies of Murdochites across the globe swapping ideas and instructions in what is approaching a panic to make the plan work.

Roop, in praise of the Daily Telegraph’s exceptional Westminstergate exclusives, believes surfers will pay to read this sort of thing. Wrong, I’m afraid. I, along with millions of others, followed the story closely without buying a single copy of the paper.

Murdoch appears to be thrashing about on behalf of his newspaper empire as if it is a dinosaur in danger of extinction. He is talking to rival newspaper publishers about how to make the internet their domain rather than that of such as Google, and he is trying to chop the BBC off at the knees.

It is going to be fascinating to see how the Tories treat the Beeb if or when they come into power next spring. This cynical old hack thinks that The Sun’s sudden unequivocal support for David Cameron must be coming at a price.

Could that be a curtailing of the BBC’s online activites? Their magnificent, all-embracing — and free — website is not just an elephant in Murdoch’s room. It is an entire Noah’s Ark.

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