Google may have the solution that lets news companies charge online

By September 10, 2009Business models, Content, News

From Nieman:

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…..

In the document, which you can download here, Google outlines its “vision of a premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search, and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments).

I recently wrote that news companies should look for revenue streams beyond charging for their content and if I was running a news startup today that is what I would do, as I think that micropayments and subscriptions are going to be very difficult to pull off.

This Google scheme has a better chance than most though, and will offer hope to companies like News International who need to find a way to charge for their content online or their market will shrink and their revenues will decline.  It is the possibility of subscribing across multiple sites that I think gives them a chance.  An offer which allowed everybody a limited number of free articles across say the FT, NYT, WSJ, the Guardian and another half dozen top news sites but insisted on a low priced paid subscription for heavy users is one that might fly.  (As you may know the FT uses this model.) 

Multi-site subscriptions could happen with or without Google, but I feel that despite Google’s difficult history in this space a solution with them in the middle has more chance of success than a cartel of news companies acting on their own.

I still believe that micropayments will not be the answer.  In addition to Clay Shirky’s arguments on the topic, which I summarised here, I would now add Chris Anderson’s point that the mental effort required from a purchaser to decide to make a micro-purchase is out of proportion with the financial benefit to the seller.

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