Proposals For Newspaper Publishers Include Google Micropay

In June, the Newspaper Association of America went on a “paid content” info hunt, reminiscent of those fact-finding missions that Congress likes so much. In the end, 11 companies, among them Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and IBM, took part in the in-depth look at various ways to literally make content pay — some at their own request, some picked by an industry task force. (The Wall Street Journal was willing to chat but not to share details.) The group includes five startups developing options: CircLabs, Journalism Online, Mather Economics, NewsNav and ViewPass. But, as the NAA says in the preface to its report (pdf), it’s not a comprehensive review of “monetization solutions” and, as we might expect from an org trying to avoid antitrust implications, the results are as vanilla as it gets. Very Dragnet but without a solution.
The NAA has posted the report and the responses to the Request for Information (some more informative than others.) I’ll have more after I get through it all but here’s a look at the answers from Google, the company that has become a symbol for everything publishers want and all that they fear. Left unwritten: this is really a Google-plus concept, as in “we’ll keep doing everything we already do in terms of aggregation but this is your chance to add possible money-making layers beyond all the great traffic we send you.”
Google: (NeimanLabs has already published a detailed look). As befits a company interested in rentals and selling download, Google assures the publishers “‘open’ need not mean free.” At the same time, premium doesn’t mean hidden, which is why Google says it’s “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.”
More important, Google promises that micropayments, long expected and delayed, will be available to Google and non-Google properties within the next year through Google Checkout in amounts from a penny to several dollars. The idea is to aggregate purchases “across merchants and over time.” But Google doesn’t believe micropayments “will be the norm for accessing content.” Google also plans to add a stored value option that would allow buyers to maintain a balance from which to draw. (Google issued a statement after the report was published that tries to play down its own promises: “As for Checkout, we don’t have any specific new services to announce but we’re always looking for ways to make payments online more efficient and user-friendly.”)
But, wait, there’s more — Google contends that “increased advertising opportunities will likely exceed total revenue from subscriptions.” Its “best thinking about a model that works for both users and publishers” includes single sign-on, content packaging, discoverability with all content indexed and accessible via search engines, increased advertising revenues using existing Google resources, broad distribution of through publisher-controlled syndication. The costs: support, software, hosting and bandwidth would start at no charge but that could change based on need. Google would share revenue to cover those costs, processing, profit margin, offering the Android Marketplace as the most “prominent” example. Google’s full response to the NAA (pdf).
For more from Google’s perspective, my colleague Joseph Tartakoff just posted an interview with Josh Cohen, the point man for Google News with publishers.