Google Pitches One Pass Micropayment System to Publishers

Google (s goog) is answering Apple’s (s aapl) subscription model with a new micropayment service called One Pass that appears to give publishers more freedom in selling their content without having to give up a sizable cut of revenue. One Pass will allow publishers to set their price and terms for their digital content and manage direct relationships with customers, something that Apple has made an opt-in feature for users of its new subscription model. Users will be able to access content on publisher sites through one sign-in from any number of devices.

The move highlights the continued competition between Apple and Google as they try to position themselves with publishers and developers. Apple roiled the waters when it announced a subscription model for publishers that forces them to use Apple’s in-app purchase system for iOS devices and give Apple 30 percent of all subscription revenue while limiting their ability to offer web-based payments. The decision was pitched as a way to help drive more consumer downloads but it has angered some companies including Rhapsody, which called Apple’s subscription scheme “untenable.”

Google’s offer seems aimed at capitalizing on discontent with Apple’s latest move. It offers payment through Google Checkout and back-end management services but appears to be more flexible for publishers:

Publishers have control over how users can pay to access content and set their own prices. They can sell subscriptions of any length with auto-renewal, day passes (or other durations), individual articles or multiple-issue packages. Google One Pass also enables metered models, where a publisher can provide some content or a certain number of visits for free, but can charge frequent visitors or those interested in premium content based on the business model that the publisher prefers. It also allows publishers to grant access to existing subscribers through a coupon-based system — so it is easy to give full online access to current customers. Publishers can give their customers codes verifying their subscription status, or can seamlessly offer content to existing subscribers via solutions enabled by Google One Pass.

Unlike Apple’s 30 percent cut, it appears Google will collect much less. The Wall Street Journal said Google will take 10 percent of the revenue. That makes sense because One Pass rides atop existing websites and web apps. But it’s also smart in that it gives publishers more of the margins they expect for their content. Google said it expects periodicals will be the first customers of this, but it could extend to other properties that want to use micro-transactions. Google One Pass is currently available in France, Germany, Spain, the UK, the US and Canada.

This could help publishers distribute their content online. While many have looked at distribution through native mobile apps, having a system like One Pass might convince them to look at creating their own web readers and investing more in web apps. Apple has said it supports both apps and HTML5 but I suspect they’ve done so knowing that native apps usually perform better. But with HTML5 constantly improving and now more payment options, we could see this become a viable choice for developers and publishers.

Google has been working on this for some time, but the timing is helpful in providing an alternative to Apple’s subscription model. Native apps are still the way to go for many developers but Apple’s power play is opening up opportunities for content owners to explore their options. Now, it’s a matter of seeing which way they go. Apple’s App Store is still arguably the best place to make money in the mobile ecosystem, but it’s not the only game in town, something Google highlighted today.

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