Murdoch’s Big Gamble Not So Dumb…? Google One Pass launch and Apple cast light on a larger picture…

When Rupert Murdoch’s media empire announced last year that a lot of its content would be going behind paywalls, hidden from Google and the millions of unique visitors flowing daily to his websites, he was almost universally derided. Well, he’s an old codger isn’t he? Struggling to come to terms with the impact of the New Media, forever living in a world of printing presses, fresh ink, bloodhound journalists and all that old stuff that is fast going the way of the dodo – it’s sad really. Mighty Murdoch, the old media mogul, now suffering the undignified loss of his empire, and his touch with reality.
Or is he?
Are paywalls built on strong foundations?
It’s hard to imagine that Rupert Murdoch didn’t have a bit more up his sleeve than one big gamble – and the recent launches of Google One Pass and Apple’s online subscription service start to make the idea of paywalls for online content less outlandish.
The internet has made us very quickly accustomed to the idea of getting stuff for free. “If The Times is going to charge, then I’ll read The Telegraph. If they charge, then something else…”. And indeed, the core option for big online publishers in monetising their traffic in recent years has been the sale of online banner advertising – at much less profitable rates than can be commanded in physical print.
Paywalls change that.
Paywalls mean problems
Two core objections to the commercial viability of publishing newspapers behind online paywalls:

  1. Readers won’t pay for content if they can get it free elsewhere
  2. Requiring people to log in, pay subscriptions, enter card details – all that is a barrier to sale and makes the publisher’s business proposition even more challenging

But that could quickly change with some fundamental shifts in the wider internet publishing landscape…
Enter the white knights: Apple and Google One Pass
The challenge of getting users to pay for online content has been reduced, perhaps significantly, by Google One Pass (launched last week) and Apple. And this could mark a massive shift for the business prospects of online publishers.
In short, One Pass gives readers a single password login and payment system that they can use for any online publication they read, which is signed up for the Google One Pass scheme.
This makes the payment part of paywalls so much less visible for the customer, makes reading a variety of paywalled online content easier, and also makes it easier for publishers currently offering content for free to wrap it behind a paywall.
Google takes a 10% cut for the pleasure (Apple’s version, available on its mobile products, takes a whopping 30%!).
The impact of One Pass is going to be fascinating, but it may well mean:

  • Many more sites experiment with paywalling their content
  • Paying for online content becomes much more commonplace
  • Other big publishers increasingly follow the trend of Newscorp

Google is, once again, all over the online advertising market – dominating in search, via its advert content network, and now it looks likely too, in the growing online subscription market.
What does this mean for you?

  • If you’ve got quality content and a core readership, subscription model business may provide better economics than chasing ad revenue
  • The “cheapskate” market may open up more, with the best quality content to be hidden behind paywalls, and less competition for the eyeballs of people who won’t cough up for their daily serving of content
  • If you’re an online publisher and rely on ad revenue of any sort, watch the development of this market trend closely – big changes may be afoot
The founder of Attwood Digital, Mark is a digital marketing veteran having been working online since before the dotcom boom. He created the world's first online skip hire service in 2003, has created multiple online courses, lectured on digital marketing and even written a book on the subject. He is also an ICO advisor and crypto-enthusiast.
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