Harper’s publisher apparently doesn’t know how internet search engines work

In a reminder that some people probably still think that the internet is a series of tubes, there’s this commentary from the delightfully curmudgeonly publisher of Harper’s magazine (found via the blog of writer Nathan Bransford) decrying how Google encourages the “for-profit theft” of information while making it much harder to find paid content.

Specifically, this gem:

Google’s bias for search results that list its own products above those of its competitors is now well-known, but equally damaging, and less remarked, is the bias that elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay at least something for the difficult labor of writing, editing, photographing, drawing, and painting and thinking coherently. Try finding Harper’s Magazine when you Google “magazines that publish essays” or “magazines that publish short stories” — it isn’t easy.


This is like me being outraged that I don’t pop up when I search for “gay man who writes stories.” (Mind you, it would be completely awesome if I showed up under those results, but I might as well be wishing to show up under the results for “Kylie Minogue’s biggest gayest fan” [I love you, Kylie! Call me!].)

Mr. MacArthur also comments on entrepreneur Xavier Niel and his ad-blocking technology:

Or try to get up-to-date news about Xavier Niel and Free through your friendly local Google search engine.

Yeah, I couldn’t find anything about Mr. Niel when I Googled him….

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I get that things are changing fast. I also get the concern about compensating content creators fairly for their intellectual property. (Hello, I’m a writer.) This sort of hand-wringing accompanies every change in communications technology. (Wasn’t it Socrates who lamented the negative impact writing would have on argument and memory?) I’m kind of appalled that someone in Mr. MacArthur’s position wouldn’t take a moment to at least try to figure out how search engines work, or consider that the online advertising he’s decrying may not be all that different from the advertising in the pages of his magazine.

Other issues with Google aside, I don’t think the company shouldn’t be compensated for the service they provide by putting an amazing amount of information at my fingertips, even if there is also a lot of debris and clutter. But then it’s my job to sift through that information and determine what is credible and what is not. And that’s far from the “dumbing down of America” that Mr. MacArthur mentions. Sure, a lot of people might not perform that due diligence (even I might not), but then I doubt many people at home were fact-checking Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather back in the day.

Meanwhile, better stay off Mr. MacArthur’s lawn, kids… though I bet his exercise in curmudgeonly whining has driven a lot of traffic to Harper’s website.

He can thank Google for that.