Imagine that, instead of paying for a bundle of cable stations, you had to pay for each one separately. That would be a death knell for many networks. This is a major hurdle facing online content providers that need to produce more revenue to survive.
A new Google initiative could provide a lifeline to newspapers, magazines and other publishers by bundling their products and providing an easy way for readers to pay for access to multiple sites.
Google has answered the Newspaper Association of America's request for ideas on how to monetize digital content by proposing a plan to bundle content much like a cable company. Google would offer packages of content for a flat rate, sharing subscription and ad revenue with the providers. Publications within each package would receive revenue based on actual readership.
What would a reader expect for his/her money? I'd be first in line to sign up for a reasonably-priced package that included the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, New Yorker magazine, Business Week, Baseball America, Cooks Illustrated, Boing Boing, Asimov's, and Make Magazine. If I were to subscribe to all of these in paper format, the cost would be astronomical. Online and bundled, perhaps I could receive them at a price that I find reasonable, yet yields enough income to keep each afloat.
The company also offers its online shopping service, Google Checkout, and a new micropayment service as tools to streamline individual content purchases for those sites that wish to offer its stories individually.
For content providers, Google brings a lot to the table; sophisticated ad-matching technology, a huge market share, and back-room processing support. It is also expert in one of the areas of interest to the NAA -- tracking customer behavior so it can serve up targeted (i.e., more profitable) advertising.
However, such a deal would undoubtedly strengthen Google's stranglehold on online advertising. Many industry and government officials are already concerned about its dominance in this market.
Will this come to pass? I would be shocked if some form of a bundled package of the most popular newspapers isn't offered within the next year, whether through Google or another company. I think it even has a chance to succeed, for the most appealing content providers.
The secondary magazines and papers, however, Cat Fancy, Car and Driver and the like, will have a much harder time overcoming the public misperception that content should be free. It isn't, you know, even now -- the cost is buried in every beer we buy, every car we rent, every movie we see.