From the Nieman Journalism Lab.
Google is developing a micropayment platform that will be “available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year,” according to a document the company submitted to the Newspaper Association of America. The system, an extension of Google Checkout, would be a new and unexpected option for the news industry as it considers how to charge for content online.
The revelation comes in an eight-page response to the NAA’s request for paid-content proposals, which it extended to several major technology companies and startups. It’s surprising, given the newspaper industry’s tenuous relationship with Google, that the company was involved at all…
The Google submission (pdf) is available here. It says, in part:
Google believes that an open web benefits all users and publishers. However, “open” need not mean free. We believe that content on the Internet can thrive supported by multiple business models — including content available only via subscription. While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue. In addition, a successful paid content model can enhance advertising opportunities, rather than replace them.
When it comes to a paid content model, there are two main challenges. First, the content mus offer value to users. Only content creators can address this. The second is to create a simple payment model that is painless for users. Google has experience not only with our e-commerce products; we have successfully built consumer products used by millions around the world. We can use this expertise to help create a successful e-commerce platform for publishers.
Beyond the mechanics of any payment system, users must know the product exists. Discovery and distribution are just as, if not more, important to premium content as they are to free conten given the smaller audience of potential subscribers. Google is uniquely positioned to help publishers create a scalable e-commerce system via our Checkout product and also enable users to find this content via search — even if it’s behind a paywall. Our vision of a premium content ecosystem includes the following features:
Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude
content behind a paywall
Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with “subscription” label, 2)
access to preview pages and 3) “first click free” access
Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based
If anyone can make such a system work, it’s Google. But I doubt that it will work, for the reasons Clay Shirky set out some time ago.
The invocation of micropayments involves a displaced fantasy that the publishers of digital content can re-assert control over we unruly users in a media environment with low barriers to entry for competition. News that this has been tried many times in the past and has not worked is unwelcome precisely because if small payment systems won’t save existing publishers in their current form, there might not be a way to save existing publishers in their current form (an outcome generally regarded as unthinkable by existing publishers.)
The micropayment idea is really a wistful fantasy of a print-based culture which thinks that it can have the benefits of being online without having to change its basic way of thinking and operating.