We know Google loves to jab its fingers into many different pies, but this latest effort is interesting: Google's developing a micropayment engine, and looks to be courting the ailing newspaper industry as customers for its service.
Micropayments look to be a booming new 'Net industry, so it's perhaps not a surprise Google wants in on the game. The system will be an extension to Google's existing e-commerce Checkout platform, and will be available to "both Google and non-Google properties within the next year. It's designed to facilitate a "premium content ecosystem" with subscriptions across multiple sites, third-party syndication, built-in search access. It'll make micropayments simpler and efficient by allowing "viable payments of a penny to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants and over time," meaning users will have an account with Google through which payments are channeled out to the individual content providers—the system is supposedly "extremely simple" for merchants to integrate into their system.
The news was revealed in an 8-page proposal answering the Newspaper Association of America's search for mechanisms to facilitate paid content for online newspaper systems—one vision for the future of the newspaper industry, championed by media giant Rupert Murdoch. There's an irony here since it's Google itself, along with other data aggregators like Yahoo, which has been blamed by that very industry for the dip in readership and loss in revenues that has caused many papers to fold or shut down their printed-media operations.
So is Google feeling guilty, and trying to prop up an industry it's credited with damaging? Of course not: It's all about good business. As newspapers seek to generate new revenue channels by switching to online publishing, there's a fabulous business opportunity opening as the provider for their payment systems. The micropayments system will apparently share revenue in a similar fashion to the iTunes App Store, and Android Marketplace, so it'll be a profitable system for Google as well as the newspapers. The upshot for Google is that it will remain at the core of the process (a position it loves to be in) and able to monitor its user's habits in the hope that it can glean more information about them—useful for tailoring its own operations, selling advertising and so on.
And is it surprising that Google wants to get in on the newsprint game? Not really—if you think about Google's push to get the Google Books project up and running. This is an effort to digitize and spread the availability of large numbers of difficult-to-find texts, and tapping into the news publishing game is perhaps a similar attempt to get more published material online. Google even sets out why it thinks this: "Google believes that an open Web benefits all users and publishers. However 'open' need not mean free. We believe that content on the Internet can thrive supported by multiple business models—including content available only via subscription." Is this maybe Google's vision of a digital future? And, of course, Google's micropayment system will be available to vendors in every other online industry too, meaning Google could become the payment channel of choice for a large number of content providers.
Seems those vast data archives in Google's digital bunkers may hold even more information about your online reading habits in the future.