The war between the big technology platforms over for the loyalties of publishers is escalating.
Google is working on an online news subscription service that will allow publishers to charge readers for content, rivaling a similar service already under development by Facebook. Facebook is trying to sweeten its own offerings with the addition of publisher logos, enabling more specific branding and audience development.
Google’s news subscription service actually consists of three related elements, according to Bloomberg News, which first reported plans to develop the program. It is being tested with The New York Times and Financial Times with an eye to adding dozens more publishers and media companies if successful.
One element is tightening its “first click-free” feature, which gives readers arriving via search limited free access to articles from publications with paywalls. Publishers are making three articles per day free to nonsubscribers, but Google is working with the NYT to lower that number, putting more pressure on interested readers to subscribe.
Google is also testing online payments tools to enable publishers to conduct simple, streamlined transactions with subscribers, including via mobile payment.
Finally, Google is working to help publishers reach new audiences and target potential subscribers through a suite of new solutions, which will also help gauge willingness to subscribe and price sensitivity for potential subscribers.
So far, Google hasn’t disclosed the potential revenue-sharing terms for its current collaborations with NYT and FT, or what might be on offer to future publisher partners.
The new offerings come amid growing concern among publishers that platform distribution isn’t a financially viable long-term model. That's prompting big contenders, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Snap, to offer services purporting to give publishers more insight and control over their audiences, as well as a greater say in ad sales.
Last month, Facebook revealed plans for a digital subscription feature for news publishers, which will enable publishers to limit the number of articles Facebook users can see for free through their news feed, capping it at 10. After that, they would have to buy a subscription.
In addition, the system would allow publishers to direct traffic to their own Web sites, where they can sell subs directly. Authentication would then allow users to continue accessing content through their Facebook news feed. Users who have already subscribed elsewhere are grandfathered in.
Still vying for publishers’ affections, this week Facebook announced it will begin featuring publisher logos next to articles in its Trending and Search features. It will allow users to more easily recognize reputable news sources, part of the ongoing fight against fake news and publishers of racial hatred and incitement.