Entrepreneur, basketball team owner and billionaire Mark Cuban isn’t one to keep his opinions to himself, particularly when it comes to something he feels strongly about — like the performance of his beloved Dallas Mavericks, or the flaws in the NBA, or the path that the media industry must take to survive in a digital world. It was the latter that Cuban held forth on in New York City on Tuesday, although to be fair he was asked for his opinion: He gave a keynote address at the AlwaysOn OnMedia 2010 conference, during which he said that Google and other aggregators are “vampires” and the only way to stop them is to “put a stake through their gosh darn hearts.”
The vampire metaphor may be Cuban’s, but this is a refrain that the newspaper and magazine industries have been hearing repeatedly over the past few years, from luminaries such as News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch (who said Google “steals our content”) and Sam Zell, the former owner of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune (who said papers needed to end Google’s “free ride”), not to mention the World Newspaper Association and the Associated Press, which seem to believe things would be better if all the content could just be locked away the way it used to be, back in the good old days.
We don’t know what kind of reception Cuban’s comments got, but it’s not hard to imagine the heads of some media establishment types nodding in agreement. After all, Google just takes media content for nothing, right? (small chunks of it, but still). And then it puts it up there for people to see, and then it sells ads and makes money. And what do traditional media entities get? Bupkis. Surely Google could spread some of those billions around, or do without the content.
This well-trodden ground was apparently trod again by the Mavericks owner in his keynote. Too many newspaper and magazines see traffic from search engines as being like customers coming through the door of a shop, said Cuban, but in reality, readers who come in from search rarely turn into customers. “You haven’t gotten anything back except that you’ve turned into zombies,” he told the assembled throng of cutting-edge CEOs and media establishment. “There is no reason to be indexed in Google.”
Cuban reportedly dared newspapers to pull their papers out of Google’s search index. “Show some balls,” he said. “If you turn your neck to a vampire, they are [going to] bite. But at some point the vampires run out of people’s blood to suck.” This is right out of Murdoch’s playbook. The News Corp. chairman recently threatened to remove all of his various newspapers from Google’s search index entirely, to which Google effectively said to go right ahead.
Both Cuban’s pitch and Murdoch’s, of course, ignore the fact that search-driven traffic is growing at most newspapers (in contrast to direct traffic and print circulation), and that if they don’t find a way to appeal to and monetize those readers then they will be catering to an ever-shrinking number. What good is having a store if no one knows that it exists? As Google continually points out, it drives billions of page views to media sites — surely some of those readers might want to return, if they were appealed to in the right way. Perhaps they might even pay for something now and then.
Does Mark Cuban believe any of what he was saying, or was he just trying to be provocative? It’s difficult to say, although it’s worth noting that while he is one of the few CEOs or billionaires who blogs regularly (OK, Bill Gates just started), he’s also the guy who got mad when a newspaper quoted some of his Twitter messages, and wondered aloud on his blog whether you could copyright a tweet. Maybe he could talk to his pal Rupert about some kind of exclusive Twitter licensing deal, while readers are occupied elsewhere.
Post photo and thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Hawk