Google's just unveiled One Pass, its own Android subscription model that lets publishers "set their own prices and terms for their digital content." It's a fast counter blow aimed squarely at Apple's new subscription system.
Google's current CEO Eric Schmidt revealed One Pass at an engagement at Humboldt University in Berlin today, and Google's been careful to frame its system as a direct competitor to Apple's App Store subscription service—one that's far friendlier to publishers—without really mentioning Apple at all.
In the official blog posting to announce the service, Google describes it as a way for readers to "access their content on tablets, smartphones and websites using a single sign-on with an email and password," hence the name One Pass. And this is really what the system is all about—it's a simple-access digital content distribution service with a user-friendly aspect. The clever subscription-related part of the One Pass is that it "helps publishers authenticate existing subscribers so that readers don't have to re-subscribe in order to access their content on new devices," which sounds both intuitive and very useful.
But the real thrust of the announcement is about how publisher-friendly One Pass is. Publishers can "customize how and when they charge for content while experimenting with different models to see what works best for them—offering subscriptions, metered access, 'freemium' content or even single articles for sale from their websites or mobile apps." One Pass also lets "publishers give existing print subscribers free (or discounted) access to digital content" and Google takes care of "the rest, including payments technology handled via Google Checkout."
It's a direct counter to Apple's new App Store subscriptions service—a system that has Apple taking 30% of subscription fees if the transaction happens through Apple, and which has strict regulations about how content is charged and how subscription deals are handled when they connect to an iOS app, but are handled through publisher's own payment systems. This new power will drive many digital newspapers and magazines business models on the iPad, which is widely expected to inject new life and income to ailing publications.
But it's a system that's instantly been mired in controversy, including threats of legal action from some app publishers and concerns that it may invoke antitrust investigations. This seems to be what Google's targeting with statements like: "Our goal is to provide an open and flexible platform that furthers our commitment to support publishers, journalism and access to quality content."
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