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Google's gatekeeper to collect toll for dying news orgs

NewsPass allows a peek over the firewall

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Google is planning to introduce a billing and payment system for news content producers by the end of the year, according to a report in Italian newspaper La Repubblica. From the description, this new caper is some way short of a micropayment system, being more like an Oyster Card for news, and other content such as video and images.

The report suggests that the system, called NewsPass, will "incorporate the functions of a universal passkey and of a unique web identity" and adds that Google has agreed to share the subscriber information with the content producers. That's a deal-breaker, since no rational publisher is going to cede this to a third party: they need to know who the readers are. The revenue split is also said to favour the content producers, but that will be another bone of contention.

A common payment pool is really something the content industry should have introduced a decade ago. There's a precedent in the airlines setting up shared reservations systems such as Sabre and Galileo, and the mobile manufacturers setting up Symbian. Instead, the newspapers veered between two disastrous extremes: one of ignoring online interaction completely (or giving it only token attention), and the other of going batshit crazy for Web2.0rhea, which you can think of as the suicide strategy. Neither extreme has served them well.

It's worth remembering the potential threat to Google of a healthy market for content. As we have suggested several times, sweeping condemnations of Murdoch's Paywall by rivals are deeply hypocritical. They want him to fail, but they want it to succeed even more.

If all the commercial content producers were to join Murdoch behind a paywall, then Google would be left indexing publicly-funded operations like the BBC and pure play web operations like us. And a billion tweets and blogs - which aren't really worth anything. The value of that index would be severely diminished - Google may as well index static.

That's why it really, really needs to be the gatekeeper. ®

Hat-tip to Kit for the translation.

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