Google Newspass suggests answers for user promiscuity

Posted on: June 21, 2010

“we are probably seeing the beginning of Google’s outreach to publishers to gauge their interest in partnering in a paid world. It will probably include revenue sharing akin to what Apple and Google’s own Android Market takes for apps – about 30 percent — but even with the cut, it will be new money from customers who have never paid for anything in the past”

 La Repubblica via David Carr

There are two sides to the story when it comes to paywalls –

On the one hand, information is non-rivalrous: by consuming it, I do not remove someone else’s capacity to consume it. And, furthermore, information is needed for the development of human knowledge: so more open information means we all get more ideas, medical breakthroughs, scientific innovation, etc.

On the other hand, writers, journalists, scientists – need to be paid. There must be sources of funds for individuals or organisations who create knowledge (or publish news) to survive. This could be achieved with public or private sponsorship or from consumers paying directly for the information they consume. There are also possible in-between measures, such as aggregators or ISPs collecting some revenue from web users to pass on to content providers.

Although many (including me) have criticised the pure paywall approach for media organisations such as The Times newspaper – Google Newspass is a little different.

A powerful argument against paywalls is that a good news organisation should be able to develop loyalty that can be monetised in a variety of ways – only organisations that churn out undesirable, undifferentiated and unengaging content need fail at this.

Another stumbling block for paywall builders is that even if their website provides content people appreciate, loyalty is ever-more fragmented across the real-time, social web. There is a long tail of interest, and sites and content providers that cater to these. Google Newspass is interesting because it plans to enable payment to be easily spread across otherwise unconnected websites via a one-click trusted payment mechanism.

The popularity of Twitter and real-time sharing has excacerbated user promiscuity. If I spend a few hours on Twitter I usually follow links to 15+ websites. How would I deal with a situation where I need to register and pay a fee for each one? Clearly, if I am to be persuaded to pay for news and information products, it would make much more sense if I can easily spread that love across many places.

This is not an argument for or against the introduction of payment for access to some types of content, bundled up with the aid of aggregators like Google. (This is a wider debate, which includes considerations of information access for the poor.) But Newspass represents an interesting proposition because it introduces scope to monetise despite the wide dispersion of user loyalty, overcoming a hurdle which I feel any organisation that charges for its own content alone will struggle with.

Of course, there is yet another option for content providers. Try and bypass the mighty Google aggregator / paywall and turn their nose up at a paltry 70% cut – partner with other websites and try for a higher share of users’ payments. But given the prevailing importance of Google Search – it may become the case that refusing to buy into Google Newspass will become impossible for even the biggest media networks.

Two-headed snake picture by Jason Pratt


1 Response to "Google Newspass suggests answers for user promiscuity"

I think that we all have to work together and put our hands in our own pockets to make this work.

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