Google explores ad alternative

24 November 2014

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA: Google, the internet giant which derives most of its income from advertising, is trialling a new micro-subscription product that enables web users to view certain publishers' sites without advertising.

Called Contributor, Google described it as "an experiment in additional ways to fund the web". Users are invited to contribute between $1 and $3 a month and when they visit the sites of participating publishers they will see either a pixel pattern or a thank you message where they would normally expect to see an ad.

Publishers will not miss out on any ad revenue, however, as the set-up is designed to pay them the going rate for those advertisements that are hidden. Effectively the account of a Contributor member matches what would have been the winning bid on Google's DoubleClick Ad Exchange, with Google continuing to take a slice of the action.

A Google spokesperson explained to Gigaom that readers or users would be able to support only those websites and publishers whose sites they visited frequently.

"It's a positive development as long as it's a fairly negotiated arrangement between Google and the publishers," said Jason Kint, CEO of the Online Publishers Association, in remarks reported by DigiDay.

Ten publishers are taking part, including Mashable, The Onion, Urban Dictionary, WikiHow, Science Daily and Imgur. Google explained that for the beta version it wanted to start small and see how much the feature was used.

For publishers, Contributor appears to offer a useful alternative option to the extremes of paywalls on the one hand and being totally dependent on advertising on the other.

But micropayments in any form have yet to find favour with media outlets, as the perception persists that they are awkward to operate and that, in the words of Clay Shirky, web users "don't like being nickel-and-dimed".

One advocate of micropayments claims, however, that, given a choice between these and paywalls, readers much prefer paying for specific pieces of content and that this also encourages browsing so making it more likely they will become a regular paying customer.

Data sourced from Google, DigiDay, Gigaom; additional content by Warc staff