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Will Google’s Newspass save serious journalism?

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Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 9:23 pm

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Will Google’s Newspass save serious journalism?

Can Google drive a cultural change in news consumption?

That’s the question raised by an Italian newspaper’s report that the Internet search giant will launch a premium news content paywall system called Newspass by year’s end.

“Users will be able to access content behind paywalls with a single click, directly from the search engine results page,” said La Repubblica. (Translation courtesy of bealoud.com.)

Such a system could (emphasis on the conditional) serve the public interest by creating a revenue stream for quality news organizations that have lost their funding with the collapse of the printed newspapers filled with display and classified ads.

Newspass looks to be the incarnation of proposal Google made to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) last fall. That proposal, reported by Nieman Journalism Lab, envisions a new kind of a news ecosystem in which paid premium content, from a variety of news sources, is nested within free sites.

With such a system, said the Google proposal, news publishers could

“… decide to package their content (or a rich preview thereof) with appropriate branding and advertising units and encourage third parties (e.g., other newspapers) to host the syndicated content package, exposing it to a broader audience. Publishers would derive revenue from advertisements embedded in the syndicated package, as well as traffic from the embedded links back to the publisher. In the case of premium content, the syndicated content would only contain a free preview, and would embed monetization units for micropayment and subscription.”

If all or most of the major news organizations joined such a system in unison, readers who want high quality journalism would be forced to pay for it.

The key questions for the reading public are 1) whether Newspass will be simple yet versatile enough to meet the needs of readers willing to pay and 2) whether the news organizations will be willing to act like a cartel and adopt Newspass in unison.

Once upon a time the New York Times and the Washington Post would have never dreamed of collaborating in establishing a paywall. Now that the traditional business model is kaput, they may have no choice but to enter a shotgun marriage–with Google as the minister.

If such a system were successful, would the major news organizations effectively be subsidiaries of Google? That’s a scary question for another day.

While declining to release a launch date, Google told Paid Content

“We’ve consistently said we are talking with news publishers to figure out ways we can work together, including whether we can help them with technology to power any subscription services they may be thinking of building. Our aim, as with all Google products, would be to reach as broad a global audience as possible.”

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This post was written by:

Margot Williams

- who has written 49 posts on Inside Google.

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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