Publisher's Note — January 17, 2013, 11:29 pm

Google’s Media Barons

This column originally ran in the Providence Journal on January 16, 2013.

I had to cheer when I read the news the other week about a French company that’s selling an ad-blocking service on the Internet. Xavier Niel, the entrepreneurial owner of the web-service provider Free, is threatening to smash the advertiser-supported “free-content” model. That model has transformed Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt into media barons who make William Randolph Hearst look like a small-time operator. Niel, it seems, would also like to make the Internet “free,” but in a way that horrifies the so-called content providers — that is free of paid advertising.

As publisher of a magazine that specializes in substantive, complex, and occasionally lengthy journalism and literature, and that also lives off advertising, I’ve long objected to Google’s systematic campaign to steal everything that isn’t welded to the floor by copyright — while playing nice with its idiotic slogan “Don’t be evil.”

As a journalist and board member of the Authors Guild, I’ve watched in dismay as writers, living and dead, have suffered steep drops in income and copyright control thanks to Google’s — and its smaller rivals’ — logistical support for pirating and repackaging everything that we writers, editors, and publishers hold dear. From the humblest newspaper reporter to the most erudite essayist, we do the work, we invest the money and time, some of us risk our lives — and Google, broadly speaking, reaps the benefits without spending a dime.

This for-profit theft is committed in the pious guise of universal access to “free information,” as if Google were just a bigger version of your neighborhood public library. Acceptance of such a fairy tale lets parasitic search engines assert that they are “web neutral,” just disinterested parties whose glorious mission is to educate and uplift.

This is nonsense, of course. 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.

Or try to get up-to-date news about Xavier Niel and Free through your friendly local Google search engine. Not exactly web neutral, our buddy-philanthropists Larry, Sergey, and Eric.

Publishers and writers are belatedly recognizing the self-defeating nature of their own free-content platforms, as advertising is dispersed through the Internet in more and more fractionalized and lower-cost quantities. But these authentic content producers have been largely complicit in their own decline by aiding and abetting the childish belief that search engines are intended to educate (as opposed to making money for their owners) and that education via the Internet can bypass the necessary struggle of reading, analyzing, and connecting texts, in depth and over time.

“We’ll do it for you,” say Larry, Sergey, and Eric, and it will all be free! Now Larry, Sergey, and Eric are billionaires, while the average writer and teacher can barely make ends meet.

Thus proceeds the infantilization of the American public, hooked more than ever on superficial, unchecked information sometimes rewritten from more reliable, though uncredited sources. It’s no coincidence that Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Yelp sound like toddler gibberish from the Teletubbies.

Whenever I hear these silly corporate names invoked with sanctimonious awe, I imagine Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, and Tinky-Winky singing their hit single “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh’ ” as they shake the change out of some two-year-old’s pocket. Come to think of it, Eric Schmidt’s new playmate, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, bears a more than superficial resemblance to Po.

Where will it end, as the dumbing down of America accelerates and Google becomes ever more dominant? A psychoanalyst friend tells me that listening to baby talk may be gratifying up to a point, but that constant subjection to it produces unconscious rage in adults. This unending assault of babble potentially could lead to revolutionary conditions in which the new writer-teacher proletariat rises up to overthrow the Internet oligarchy and the politicians and government agencies who protect it. (See, for example, the Federal Trade Commission’s dropping of its antitrust investigation of Google in early January because Google’s practices actually help consumers. Google spends much time and money lobbying for its interests in Washington — an estimated $25 million during the FTC probe.)

Or, perhaps as likely, the relentless stream of googoo-gaga propaganda from Larry, Sergey, and Eric will further deaden the senses of a people inured to violence in their films, their newspapers (which report on a largely unaccountable American army’s patriotic mission against the infidel in foreign lands), and in their own hometowns.

There’s no need to despair, however. Little kids love free stuff and we can still watch Teletubbies for free on YouTube. All together now, sing “Eh-oh!”

Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note September 17, 2015, 5:23 pm

Clinton Caution

“As far as substance, there was none — just the usual Clinton caution and excruciatingly scripted bromides designed to offend as few people as possible.”

Publisher's Note July 16, 2015, 6:02 pm

The Ignorance of Journalists

“The fix was in from the beginning, despite the revolt. Fast-track authority was never in danger.”

Publisher's Note June 12, 2015, 10:53 am

Nonsense Brokers

“Rep. Kathleen Rice last week reversed her opposition to fast-track the TPP. If history repeats itself she won’t be the only member of Congress to betray her working class and labor-union supporters.”

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

  • A. Bloom

    It seems that your criticism hinges on two things:

    1) That writers and publishers deserve money (and want money/compensation) for their writings, and Google circumvents this through biased ranking and other methods.

    2) That Google is corrupting people by making them think it is ok to substitute online knowledge from rigorous study.

    3) That google is profiting

    My responses, not in order:

    3) I agree that is a bad intention, but relative to other companies, Google is ahead in this aspect. Although, the public shouldn’t be misled to thinking Google is ideal

    2) I think it is possible to learn things online better than in a formal setting. Not everyone can, but many can, as is exemplified by countless examples, particularly CS engineers. But yes, it can also “dumb” down America. This is hardly Google’s fault though, for they just present the knowledge. Americans should learn how to detect bs; they have the burden, for even in academia can they be misled. As for teachers losing their jobs, free knowledge trumps meaningless jobs and wealth and survival. Knowledge is everything and it is what being human is about. We should not reduce a more ideal source of knowledge just to protect jobs. As while I believe in the tremendous value of teachers, and that Googlers need teachers more than they think, I still think Googling knowledge has a lot of value.

    1) Seriously? Screw profit and wealth. As bastions of knowledge, your passion should be in making knowledge. Screw compensation. As long as your ideas are out there, and that it enlightens people, you should be happy. Google can do this better than you due to it’s connectedness. You criticize Google for profiting, but you yourself demands compensation. The extent of profiting does not determine immorality, but the act itself; either you believe profiting is bad or you believe it is good. As for recognition, that is just your ego – you are a part of the great machine of humanity, not an individual agent who is out for himself. Who cares if you aren’t recognized as long as your work is enlightening.

    • A. Bloom

      3 things*

    • Jack Mingo

      I tend to agree with much that’s been said here. However, when you are talking about writers being happy with no compensation, it is clear you have no idea how little money writers make for what can be very hard work. Many “successful” writers — name recognition, dozens of books, first class credits — are living on the edge of poverty. To be cavalier about how happy they they should be about enriching the rest of us with their work is like telling the guy on the executioner’s block, surrounded by a jeering crowd, to cheer up because look how much he’s joy he’s giving thousands of people.

      • cpt kangarooski

        True, it’s a tough business. But even before Google or the Internet, that was true. The stereotype of an impoverished artist starving in a dreadful garret is an old one and exists for a reason. Copyright is a benefit for successful artists who work in a field where copyright is relevant to them, but that’s very different from being beneficial to all artists. It’s entirely possible that it would be better for the majority of working artists to scrap much of copyright and instead support them with an adequate and modest welfare system.

      • Graeme Caldwell

        I’m a writer; that’s how i make my living, and I absolutely abhor copyright infringement, but that’s not what Google does. Google provides a channel for people to find the content that they are interested in. The snippets that appear in Google News and Search are signals of relevance to potential readers; they are the reason that articles get readers at all. MacArthur should check his analytics and see where his readers are coming from before he starts complaining.

        With the advent of AuthorRank, and verified authorship, authors with high-reputations are going to end up being well-ranked. That’s a great signal for Google, and it’s going to have a significant impact on writers. But, what it will also do is disintermediate the content market. There will no longer be a need for mandarins like MacArthur, standing between the reader and the content to decide what content is to be selected for the reading public.

        In a sense, that’s lamentable, because magazines like Harpers, with their editing and nurturing of talent – curation, I suppose, in the modern sense – do add an enormous amount of value, but unless they get on board the search and social train, they’re not going to survive to cultivate anything.

    • Sylvia

      “You criticize Google for profiting, but you yourself demands compensation. ” This is unfair.

      One can’t spend much time writing and spreading knowledge to the best of one’s abilities if one is also working as a waitress or secretary or ad man for 40-55 hours a week to pay the bills. Where is the energy to make great points at the end of the day? Hence, why writers and content-makers want to be paid fairly for what they do as a profession – so that they have time and energy for it!

  • Graeme Caldwell

    “Or try to get up-to-date news about Xavier Niel and Free through your friendly local Google search engine. Not exactly web neutral, our buddy-philanthropists Larry, Sergey, and Eric.”

    What are you talking about? Both Google Search and Google News contain up to date information about Niel. As of right now, the most recent story on Google News covering this is two hours old.


    • anywherehome

      Yes….the article is paid by Microsoft or Apple……googles neutrality and accuracy is important for his ads business….. :-)

      • Graeme Caldwell

        I don’t know about the first part, let’s not make accusations without evidence, but you’re right about the second part.

        The people who complain about Google being biased are generally the people who have seen their search engine positions drop because Google caught them spamming in some way, their content wasn’t very good, or their business model isn’t adapted for the Internet. Google paranoia is the result of not having any sort of understanding of how search engines and the Internet work.

        If Google were systematically biased, and there was incontrovertible proof of that, it would be game over for them. People can very easily move to different search engines. The reason they use Google is that they trust it to return unbiased and relevant natural search results.

        There are lots of legitimate concerns about Google, but this isn’t one of them.

        What’s sad is that without the understanding to adapt to the new content market, Harper’s is going to eventually die. Mr. MacArthur’s channeling of Canute is a symptom of the sickness that will eventually kill it.

        • SkepticalGuy

          People dump on Google all the time, and I never quite understand it. Microsoft has a long running astroturf operation against it, I don’t know if Apple has something similar to go with Steve Jobs’ thermonuclear operation, but it’s certainly possible. Neither Microsoft nor Apple are in very good positions to criticize Google. But I’m sure Mr. MacArthur didn’t need prompting on this piece.

          MacArthur’s piece puts me in mind of cranky old Lewis Latham in his Harper’s days. But for the namesake of the famous “genius grant”, it’s really quite a lame article. I tried MacArthur’s odd “magazines that publish essays” query, and got results that made perfect sense if you realize that you’re just doing a keyword search and Google doesn’t do natural language processing – a bunch of stuff about getting your own essay published. When I put in my own search for what I always thought of Harper’s as, “general interest magazines”, the first result was the Yahoo directory page, which listed Harper’s as the seventh result, making bot MacArthur’s whine about findng Harper’s and his complaint about Google favoring its own results look pretty silly.

          Compared to its big tech competitors – Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon – I’d say Google is really pretty egalitarian and even handed. They all have privacy issues, but Google by its nature is outward looking, while Facebook and Apple, at least, are always trying to rope you into their special little world, and keep you there. for their benefit more than yours.

          For people looking for a real article about Google and its relation to print media, I’d recommend this article in an old Harper’s rival: . The Atlantic seems to have adjusted to the internet age a lot better than Harper’s, I go there all the time and hardly ever look at Harper’s relatively sparse and lame online effort.

  • Ike Pigott

    I have a healthy distrust of Google, and fear their endgame may be far more insidious. (see )

    However, Occam’s Razor provides a simpler answer for why Free results show up better than paid. Google makes money when people use Google. People use one search engine over another when they feel they are getting better results, and getting to what they want faster.

    Serving up links that just frustrate the end user with a Paywall ends up punishing the search engine’s performance reputation. Ergo, don’t flash things up for users that make them come back for a second or third or fourth click. I dare say this was never programmed into The Algorithm, it’s just an unintended emergent consequence of how We have trained it. WE are the ones who have exiled the paid results, and Google is reflecting back the aggregate of our Kantian sins.

    • Graeme Caldwell

      Right. Most of the people that carry out a search and click on a link, only to be faced by a paywall, will immediately return to Google and follow another result. For Google that’s a signal that the user was dissatisfied with the result, and so it gets pushed down in the SERPs.

  • TWG

    Insulting people is a poor way to win hearts and minds in your battle

  • Jeremiah Blatz

    Mr. MacArthur,

    You appear to be greatly misinformed about the conflict between Free and Google. Free is not “selling an ad-blocking service.” Firstly, ad-blocking is free to whoever wants it. Secondly, Free is imposing Google ad-blocking on all their users as a way of extorting money out of Google. It seems that the ISP wants to be paid twice, once from their advertisers (or their customers, if the customer elects to not receive Free’s ads) and once from Google, for delivering the (YouTube) content that their users specifically request. This is rent-seeking and extortionary, and is bad no matter how you feel about Google.

    Secondly, you seem to think that there is conspiracy on the part of Google to suppress paid content at the extent of free. You claim that this is “well-known,” but it is not. You should provide some citations. One could easily counter that Google simply reflects the tastes of internet users, and that the price of paid content is not in the direct cost, but in the hassle of signing up and the like. This is also “well-known.” (Further note that the Google ads do channel some amount of money to content producers. It’s not a huge amount, to be sure, but it’s not as if Google is keeping all the ad revenue for itself.)

    I do empathize with your desire for writers to be paid, and I happily subscribe (for $50 a year) to a well-known web site that publishes original long-form non-fiction, so please do not think I am some free-content techno-hippy or whatever. However, with your article you are supporting the greater of two evils.

    [ edit: proofreading. Hey, what do you want for free? :-) ]

  • Alan Langford

    This post is so far off base that it’s difficult to not use troll bait rhetoric in response. It’s not Google that provides “logistical support” for the destruction of the channels that allowed people like you to control — and profit from — the distribution of information, it’s the Internet. It’s the underlying communications that enable this. Google and its kin are just a new form of intermediary, and as a result they derive the revenue you used to when you were the intermediary. Times have changed. It’s over. Deal with it. Ranting at Google et al won’t change a damn thing.

    And by the way there have been plugins that let people who don’t like ads get rid of them for years (go ask your local librarian for information on “Adblock plus”). The proportion of people who use these tools is not significant enough to disrupt the model. I hope you find a way to deal with reality and stop wasting your time producing drivel like this.

    • Jeff Stanger

      Good response. Agreed.

      This lament is now yellowing at the edges. I actually found myself checking the year of posting. The disconnect here is that legacy journalistic/content institutions failed, and continue to fail apparently, to recognize that they aren’t in the journalism business, not in the magazine business, not in the essay-writing business — they are in the advertising delivery business, and thus should have been in the digital advertising delivery business. And I’m not talking banner wraps, I’m talking where the real money is — in technology, in search, now in social paths to online material. Rather than decry the arrival of Google and others, content industries should have been busy digitally diversifying…*creating*, building — or at least part-owning, through foresight and understanding of the digital arena — the innovative technological tools that are now the locus of economic value in this new digital environment. There is little economic value in “content,” regardless of quality, certainly not enough to support its creation. (By the way, that’s always been the case. Soap ads sold in one wing of the building paid writers pounding away in another.) Instead — What if Harper’s had created Google? Or what if Harper’s owned a large enough fraction of one of many growing digital enterprises worth billions? There would be more than enough money to support the hard work of essay-writing and quality journalism. Unfortunately, that ship has long since sailed for most.

  • Sam

    I don’t understand; how does NOT finding Harper

    • Lowestofthekeys

      He doesn’t understand how SEO works, or that websites that people actually want to read are pushed to the front.

  • Charles

    This is nothing more than a curmudgeon’s rant about the good ol’ days. Don’t be alarmed Mr. MacArthur. It’s natural for men of a certain age to find scapegoats to blame for why the world has changed in new and unfamiliar ways.

  • J Kelly

    Sounds like you need to spend a little less time ranting about how Google is “stealing” your content and a little more time on your SEO efforts.

    • devolute

      Coincidentally, slagging off Google is a great SEO technique.

  • Eric Schuetz

    This article sounds more like a session in whining, than attempting to get across a journalistic point of view. Yes, the “free web” has had a huge impact on the way companies establish their business model. Companies that are losing out to the free web has found was to make themselves profitable online, while not loosing their content to the open web. The use of paid subscription based websites is still a popular method, and yet effective. I have also seen many print magazines have successful content in print, and online because the two formats provide different content.

    Blaming Google for a companies lack of foresight in handling content online is about as effective as blaming winter for why you didn’t stock up on winter supplies in the fall. Any web team worth their pay will be able to create a simple database that differentiates content from being open to the world for free, versus having content restricted to members only. If that team can not do so, then fire them, replace them with competent individuals capable of handling the job, and stop complaining.

    Google is a corporation for profit, and they will do things that benefit them. So will ANY company. Profit is what keeps a business afloat. We all know that. However, Google also has made so many strides in attempt to gather information and push it to the world. This ranges from images and video to books and magazines. Digitizing content for the prosperity of the next generation. If that is nothing but “bloat” and poppycock to you, then you have restricted your vision to one of a self pretentious snob hell bent on benefiting yourself and the company you work for while giving the bird to anyone that disagrees with you.

    And for a final thought. What makes Google any different from the public library? I can go and search for a news paper, a book, a movie/television show, a magazine and consume it for free. I do not need a membership to absorb the content. I can relax virtually anywhere, kicking my feet up. Again, I pay NOTHING for this content. Does that mean that the library (Yes, this whole paragraph was about using a library, NOT Google) is evil for providing me with content that I had to pay no one for?

  • David R. Poindexter

    “Now Larry, Sergey, and Eric are billionaires, while the average writer and teacher can barely make ends meet.”

    I’d like to introduce you to what is called a “Red Herring.”

  • Dan Seitz

    Mr. McArthur, if you’re reading, we have heard this argument before:

    It is, pure and simple, untrue. Google is not at fault for your publication’s problems, any more than your retail outlets are at fault. You have more competition and will have to adjust.

  • tim_{d}

    That nasty awful Google, giving those slobbering masses the things that they want.

  • Dubya911

    Company that makes money by controlling access to content and keeps a disproportionate portion of revenue for its self complains about new company that provides better access to more content for less money. NEWS AT 11!

  • Laura Gibbs

    I guess you have never heard of GoogleBooks. Of course, Authors Guild would shut down GoogleBooks if they could… but they can’t, much to my relief. And by exploring the treasure-trove of 16th- and 17th-century books now available to me (and to everyone) for free, THANKS TO GOOGLE and their library partners, I was able to write this book – Brevissima: 1001 Tiny Latin Poems – and this book – Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop’s Fables in Latin – and give them away for free, which you can read about in my blog,, published with Blogger, another free tool from Google. If you do not realize that Google is providing both teachers and learners with the most amazing educational opportunities in the history of the world, then you need to take another look. Please.

    • ocatagon

      MacArthur is on the board of the Author’s Guild – the #1 roadblock to Google Books – and now I see why: because they have technological idiots and intellectual snobs like MacArthur on their board.

  • Miroslaw


  • fLimmx

    I do have to say that your search query “magazines that publish essays” made me laugh. Thank you for your sense of humor, Mr. McArthur!

  • Anthony Kelly

    I would never have read this blog post if it hadn’t been for Google…

  • Abhisshack D

    Try finding Harper

  • Krystyn Heide

    “(Google’s) bias elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay.”

    Or … the sites with free content are more frequently visited over the ones that ask readers to pay. Because of their popularity, they would be considered more relevant to the term you’re searching for, and ranked higher in the results.

    It’s not Google bias. It’s reader preference.

  • David Amerland

    As a journalist myself I was horrified by the fact that someone would invoke the job description to lend credence to a diatribe that has nothing to do with journalistic integrity and even less to do with technical know-how. Beyond the deplorable fact that a supposedly erudite piece, written under the pretension of journalistic integrity which by definition needs to look at the facts and present them to support the argument, sinks to the depths of biased name-calling and off-hand characterisation, the technical essence much of this diatribe is based upon is flawed from the start.

    There are so many issues this post raises that I really don’t know where to begin from: A. Learn how search works and work with it B. If your business model has not adapted to the 21st century maybe you should not be in business C. Failing to understand how your target market has shifted has nothing to do with search D. Oh, let’s forget the above and go with your suggestion: “The internet is inherently evil and should just be dismantled”.

    Yes, journalism is precious as is deeply researched, knowledgeable writing. But that also made the very same journalists this piece purports to have been written in defence of subjects to the whims of a virtual monopoly created by high-entry level costs in the field of publishing. To suggest that somehow all was hanky-dory before Google and the web came along is to live in the same Teletubbies reality the writer suggests the rest of us inhabit.

    And since the only suggestions he has is to turn back the clock and go back to the hallowed era when his word and his alone was law by the stint of his magazine pulpit it might help to remember that Plato, a philosopher whose standing is somewhat above that of John R. MacArthur famously said about writing:

  • derlinzer

    If free is so terrible, i really wonder if Harper’s Magazine pays for DISQUS VIP or if they use the free service…

  • david kilmer

    “A psychoanalyst friend tells me that listening to baby talk may be gratifying up to a point, but that constant subjection to it produces unconscious rage in adults.”

    A “friend”, eh?

  • squiggleslash

    This is a stupid article, from the claim that Google favors its own products in search results (which is presumably why Yahoo Mail is coming up as the first search result when I search for “email”) onwards.

    Yes, I’m sure authors are having more and more problems with lower sales and less interest in their paper works. It’s because of something called “The Internet”, not “Google”. It’s becoming increasingly easy to find high quality content online.

    Fighting Google is fighting the wrong enemy, and failing to acknowledge the inevitable.

  • Brian Upton


  • dporpentine

    If the internet has done nothing else, it’s exposed the publishers of yore as a bunch of sad sacks desperate to hang on to unearned privileges.

  • Jeff A. Taylor

    The truly delicious irony here is that Google only exists because the incumbents from “the humblest newspaper reporter to the most erudite essayist” steadfastly refused to admit what it was they had been selling at near monopoly prices for all those years. It was not content. It was access.

    Access to the facts of the matter, the history — anyone remember hand-written arrest reports, file-cabinet clip files or Microfiche? — access to the rich and powerful — the apocryphal editor who advised his intern, “If there is a fire, grab the Rolodex and haul ass.”

    They couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see that modern database technology once democratized by dirt cheap processing and digital storage rendered their access almost common. Remnants like the White House press pool are the exception which prove the rule, and who would say the quality of that reportage is top notch?

    Yes, mere access does not guarantee quality content. The Inter-webs prove that thousands of times a day. But conversely, limited access to content via a paywall is no guarantee of quality.

    As Harper’s seems determined to prove.

  • Albin

    First and foremost, consumers all pay more for internet access every month than historically most consumers have ever paid for media access and subscriptions. I grew up in a fairly typical or even atypically “intellectual” household that watched ad supported nettwork TV, and subscribed to Time, Life, National Geographic and occasional other magazines that the folks took on discount from Publisher’s Clearing House (remember that?) While I get a wonderful cornucopia of ad-supported media via my typical hefty broadband subscriptions, it is not lost on me that my ISP and (I agree with this writer here) the major aggregators are pocketing the benefits but not contributing to the financial survival of the online media I read or watch.

    I do not advocate or plan to personally pay, incrementally or by separate subscription, for each and every media article I read online. I pay my ISP for that and I deal with the aggregators business models by returning or ignoring them. But I’ve long thought and been surprised at the delay in media organizations turning to ISPs and aggregators and saying to THEM: “you can’t have our content for free any more.”

    (N.B. I imagine the cartoonish character of computer and mobile device GUIs, the names of services, and other Disnified characteristics of online experience have already been the subject of Ph.D. theses I’ll never read, but may this writer wants to.)

  • john

    This is one of the silliest things I’ve read in a while. In addition to somehow thinking that it costs nothing to run Google (maybe I should start one) and not knowing what Free is (an ISP, not a “web service company” or whatever), there’s a pretty good reason for Google not linking to essays it can’t see, because they’re behind a paywall. I will wait a few seconds for you to realize that the reason Google doesn’t link to material that Google does not have access to, is because Google does not have access to it.

  • Guest

    Did you actually take the time to

  • rodedwards

    Did you actually take three seconds and try to google “Xavier Neil” or were you too busy spewing self-righteous pretentious garbage?

  • AnOuthouse

    As a subscriber I find ‘electronic’ Harpers kind of sucky and about 5 years behind others. I still get the paper version. Why isn’t Harpers available for my Nook? I don’t want to use a different app to read the electronic version. Every time I try to search the archive I have to jump through hoops to prove that I’m a subscriber so I just give up. It isn’t a surprise that Harpers isn’t prominent in on-line searches.

    • Vinny Fonseca

      For someone who thinks the internet is “Google” and is also “evil and should be dismantled”, do you actually think they would know what a “Nook” or an “app” is? I’d be surprised if they knew what those “metal things with 4 rubber wheels” running all around the city are.

  • hartwilliams

    This is one step removed for blaming all our current woes on water fluoridation. Not so well played, sir.

  • Joeystern

    I googled “People who don’t understand the Internet, often” and it brought me here.

  • Antoine Carriere

    Is Harper’s entering the Tabloid journalism market?

    I believe that the first sentence is factually inaccurate (help me understand how Xavier Niel is “selling” an ad blocking software, at best he actually purchased it). The rest is an opinion piece, poorly (if at all) researched. It is sad, because the question of how to promote the production of quality content is a critical one for humanity.

  • Me

    Git yer damnable intertubes offa ma lawn!

  • Clyde Smith

    Checked Harper’s homepage, there’s no reason Google would return Harper’s for those queries unless a lot of people elsewhere are describing it as a magazine that publishes essays or short stories. Short stories isn’t even on there.

    Xavier Niel Free is easy to find in both regular search:

    And in news:

    You know this is web 101 stuff and it makes you look incompetent.

    I have issues with Google but media critics that don’t even know what they’re looking at help explain the ongoing failure of old school media to understand what they’re dealing with.

  • James

    This article has it exactly…wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if some astroturf generating consultant isn’t showing this piece to his client at Microsoft as proof of a job well done. Out of the big companies on the web, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, etc., Google is one of the few that has managed to stay on my probation list. The rest have pulled some sort of corporate shenanigans. Google isn’t without sin, but, once one brushes off the paid for FUD, they look fairly responsible to me.

    Harper’s is the *only* magazine I still subscribe to. I felt that the magazine that supported Lewis Lapham’s editorial energies was worth supporting. Harper’s is lucky to have Thomas Frank to help fill his shoes, because this note from John MacArthur made me think about canceling my subscription.

  • David Church

    I only found this editorial and viewed the accompanying ads on Harper’s website because I use Google’s Currents app (which is free and contains no Google ads.)

    So which company is profiting from Google’s efforts?

  • Dave

    Wow, what utter nonsense.

  • David R. Brierley

    It’s easy to block most search engines:

    Yet Harper’s does not:

  • Kevin

    If this is any indication of what kind of content I can expect to get from Harper’s Magazine, I think i’ll stick to free blogs. I don’t know whats more ironic: your juvenile use of baby babbling and Teletubbies to illustrate your belief that people that disagree with you are unintelligent, or the fact that the whole thing was just an empty, unsubtle appeal to ridicule.

    This article smells of hypocrisy, on one hand calling out Google on their attempts to dress up their rent seeking as pursuing freedom of information, while simultaneously acting like hitting Google up for money, and waxing poetically about the virtues of subscriptions is really about the love of journalism. Give me a break. Media barons and interest groups everywhere have always tried to dress up their rent seeking as a pursuit of public good. Google and its respective employees don’t fool me, but neither does Harper’s Magazine and its respective employees. Do you expect me to consider your whining about Google billionaires, and your unadulterated praising of subscription based models, from any other perspective than one in which I acknowledge the respective bias of the body and mouth from which it originates?

    I like you had the audacity to praise the nuances it takes to succeed in your profession, while on the other demonstrating a clear ignorance of how page rank; Google’s search algorithm, actually works and using this misunderstanding to levy a baseless accusation at Google’s feet. Let me spell it out for you: Page rank orders pages based on a variety of factors, many highly personalized, the results of my query are unlikely to be anything like yours. Your personal anecdote, and my personal anecdotes, about what is likely to be found when you search for ” magazines that publish essays”, are in no way generalizable. As a side note I did search exactly these words on Google out of curiosity, when it occurred to me that this was an incredibly loaded in query, that actually conveniently illustrates the problem with your opinion: You’re making presumptions about how content ought to be distributed,and who ought to be the curators of the content.

    Let me just elucidate some far more probable causes of Harper’s low page rank (assuming that is in fact what is happening). The first, and most l probable cause is that Harper’s magazine has lower relative traffic, and fewer other websites that link to it, than its competitors. Now this is where you were on to something: ultimately your page rank is lower because you block content with pay walls. Of course the devil is in the details. Your page rank is low because other websites don’t want to annoy their uses by sending them to your articles only to hit a pay wall, and because a huge percentage of the information market, especially the ones regularly using google, just wants to look for information or a perspective on something specific via a search engine, with no intention of ever committing to ANY source of information. Another likely example is search engine optimization, but I don’t see any need to get into that.

    You’re profession is dying for the same reason cotton pickers don’t exist. Society has little need for the services you provide, at least in the way you currently package it, and sell it. The sad fact of the matter is, I can find commentary that is far more lucid, and on base in your comment section. The difference is you’re getting paid, your commentators aren’t.

  • Kevin

    I just re-read the article, why am I surprised that you referenced Psychoanalysis, and that you have a psychoanalyst as a friend? You’re pompous, sentimental, a pseudo-intellectual, and you’re practically a living fossil. It’s no wonder that you have friends that are professional pseudo-scientists.

  • Dave Houlbrooke

    What nonsense. I’ve puked better-constructed essays than this. Are you even arguing anything? Or is it just cathartic billionaire-bashing?

  • Emma Gibson

    What an embarrassing commentary. What an out-of-touch individual. Ah, dinosaurs…

  • pixiedust8

    Well, you have a paywall, and also, apparently, your organization is not doing anything with SEO (search engine optimization)–or if they are, you don’t know about it. If you want those phrases optimized (magazines/short stories, etc), you need to use those as keywords. I’m guessing that those keywords probably weren’t searched that much (assuming you are doing SEO). I also just googled Xavier Niel and got many results, including an Economist article.

    I get that technology is not your job, but you should run essays like this past people who know more about the subject first.

  • T M Callahaan

    Just a rant. Annoyance and anger come through more than anything else.

  • Lilly

    Hold tight John, a storm is comin’!

  • Helix Oxford

    I’ve cancelled my print subscription to Harper’s as a result of this idiocy. I don’t care to be associated by having a copy lying about for anyone to find.

  • Mark D.

    Beautiful commentary and Google-bashing from the president of a magazine that’s currently keyword stuffing the meta tags for the home page with beauts such as “barnacle-penis commentary”, “trinidadian foreskin unawareness”, “goldfish boiling” and “hamster taping”.

    Basically what you’re saying is that Google is that flapper Lucy from back in the aught-dickities who wouldn’t give you the time of day; you’d love to dance with her but she just ignores you so the only thing to do is break out your trusty Corona 3 typewriter and tell the world what a whore she is.

  • John Douglas DeWitt

    Harper’s who?

  • Andrew Lee

    LOL This is pure BS now back to Techdirt.

  • TellyGunge

    Ironically, if you now google “magazines that publish essays”, all the top results are about Harpers…

  • Brian C

    I’m supremely disappointed with this backwards view of search engines,
    along with the many inaccuracies and outright falsehoods about how they
    work pointed out by other commenters.

    I’m a young guy in my
    early 20′s and I’ve read the magazine by buying from newstands. I was
    literally about to become a annual subscriber until I read this

    Every time I come back here to the website to
    subscribe, I can’t. Not in good conscious. Not until Mr. MacArthur
    responds to the intelligent criticisms laid out by the commenters here
    and the outright false hoods in his piece.

    More importantly Mr.
    MacArthur needs to layout what he imagines the future of this great
    magazine will. He can’t hope to run this magazine by denying the march
    of technology and the ramifications of those advancements, whether he
    believes it’s good for society or not.


    Thanks for sharing
    this great Post dude

    Services Bangalore



October 2015

Lives by Omission

Lifting as We Climb

Cattle Calls

Getting Jobbed

view Table Content


“One of the peculiar things about economic inequality is that the people who are most articulate about it are not poor, while the poor themselves have said little, at least in print, about their situation.”
Photograph © Reuters/Brendan McDermid
“It would be nice to get through this review without recourse to the term ‘writer’s writer.’ The thing is, in the case of Joy Williams, I have seen the cliché made flesh.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
“Miniatures originated in Persia and were brought to the Indian subcontinent when the Mughals conquered it in the sixteenth century. They could take on almost any subject: landscapes or portraits; stories of love, war, or play.”
Painting by by Imran Qureshi.
“The business of being a country veterinarian is increasingly precarious. The heartland has been emptying of large-animal vets for at least two decades, as agribusiness changed the employment picture and people left the region.”
Photograph by Lance Rosenfield
“Rosie and her husband had burned through their small savings in the first few months after she lost her job. Now their family of five relied on his minimum-wage paychecks, plus Rosie’s unemployment and food stamps, which, combined, brought them to around $2,000 per month, just above the poverty line.”
Illustrations by Taylor Callery

Percentage of Americans who can correctly name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court:


Peak happiness was observed at a per capita GDP of $36,000.

Doctors Without Borders withdrew from the Afghan city of Kunduz after a U.S.-led airstrike destroyed one of the organization’s hospitals, killing 22 people.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today