Online revenue battle

Google has announced initiatives that could ensure more money flows into the coffers of publishers

News publishers, whose revenue dreams have never quite materialised in the digital space, have reasons to look in the direction of Google with some optimism. In recent months, Google has announced initiatives that, if they click, could ensure more money flows into the coffers of publishers. The initiatives go by the names Funding Choices and Subscribe with Google.

Funding Choices, announced last year and still in beta, is designed “to help publishers with good ad experiences recover lost revenue due to ad blocking”. Publishers who are a part of this initiative have the tools to spot users with ad blockers, who are then either asked to switch off the blockers or “buy an ad removal pass” via Google Contributor. This is how Contributor works: users load their pass with some money and also select Contributor partnering sites that they would like to use the pass on. A bit of the money is deducted from the pass each time the user visits a page on those sites. Google keeps “a small portion” of this. In April, Google announced it was taking Funding Choices, which launched in June last year in North America, the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand, to 31 more countries.

Subscribe with Google, the other initiative, was unveiled in March and seeks to ease the tedious experience faced by some subscribers. “Select the publisher offer you’d like to buy, click ‘Subscribe’, and you’re done.” It’s that easy, Google says, given that you can pay with “any credit card you’ve used with Google in the past.” Craig Forman, President and CEO of McClatchy, which in April signed up for Subscribe, has been quoted by Digiday as saying, “By removing friction, there’s a new injection of energy that’s possible in subscriber economics. It’s sort of a game-changer — or at least has the potential to be a game-changer.”

More revenue opportunities to fund journalism are definitely welcome. But individual publishers, the discerning ones, will note how they are increasingly playing only a marginal role in matters concerning the ecosystem and also as problem solvers.

Platform behemoths such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have for some years now been important entry points for readers. Google and Facebook have also been able to tap advertiser monies much better than anyone else. Now Google, with its size and popularity, has a good chance of also becoming a primary gateway for those who want to pay for news. This is one more constituency that could gradually slip away from the grasp of publishers.

It isn’t that they are unaware of the challenge. The Digital News Project 2018, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, noted how about half of the 194 editors and CEOs it surveyed were more worried about the power and influence of platforms than last year. Still, there is little they could do but engage with their initiatives. That keeps them in the game.

The writer is Strategy and Digital Editor, The Hindu

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 7:59:53 PM |

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