Google extends an olive branch to publishers with new subscription tool

21 Aug 2017

The New York Times. Image: Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

In a world where Google and Facebook now have the online advertising market cornered, media and news sites are finding it increasingly difficult to fight for their revenue share.

Google is designing a number of tools to boost subscription numbers for online news publishers, Bloomberg has reported.

The online advertising market is a two-horse race at the moment, with Google and Facebook possessing the lion’s share. The development of these new tools is being viewed as a way to keep consumers and content creators alike returning to the web.

The push for subscribers

Online subscriptions are the focus of many publishers at present, with print ads dwindling as well as the increased difficulty of competing with the two-pronged juggernaut that is Google and Facebook’s digital advertising monopoly.

The new Google tools will try to encourage site readers to take the leap and subscribe to their favourite outlets. Its “first click-free” feature is being revamped, with content that is usually paywalled offered free through Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) platform. This is all in the hope that users find content they enjoy that would have been inaccessible, later stumping up the cash for a subscription fee.

As well as offering readers the chance to access paywalled content, Google is also exploring ways to gauge how much users would be willing to pay to subscribe to outlets, and is creating a payments system to boost subscriber sign-up rates.

A sustainable online publishing model?

At present, Google is pairing with The New York Times and the Financial Times for the initiative, but Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, noted that the Alphabet-owned company was in talks with dozens of other outlets.

He added: “It’s clear from news publishers that they can’t live on advertising alone, but it’s also clear that we’re seeing a shift in a market.”

Some publishers have reservations about Google’s search policy, as they have the ability to bump paywalled articles – which would otherwise have been buried – up to the top of the search results. In exchange for this search boost, they need to give non-subscribers at least three free articles daily, which is sparking some worry among outlets. There are tests being run to see if this number can be dropped.

Facebook is currently working on a similar model with its Instant Article feature, according to The Verge.

It’s not totally clear at present if Google will split the revenue with publishers, but the new tools look set to launch next month. This may be the beginning of a more sustainable era of online publishing.

The New York Times. Image: Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects