Google often gets criticized by publishers for taking their content without asking them first, but the web giant has probably done more to experiment with alternative monetization options for content than any other media entity. On Thursday it starts rolling out a new one called Google Contributor, which is designed to allow web users to pay sites that they visit a monthly fee, and in return see no Google ads when they visit those sites.
Google said the new feature is launching with 10 publishing partners, including Mashable, Imgur, WikiHow and Science Daily. When a user goes to the Google Contributor website (initial access is by invitation only), they see a list of the publishers that are participating in the beta version and they can choose whether they want to contribute $1, $2 or $3 a month.
The contribution — which is handled through a user’s Google account, using whatever payment method they have chosen for the service — doesn’t go to all of the participating websites, but is only triggered when that user visits a specific site (the service is working with U.S. sites only for now). That way, a Google spokesperson said that readers or users can support only the websites and publishers whose sites they visit frequently.
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For publishers, the contributions are handled through their existing Google advertising accounts, with the search giant taking a small cut of the proceeds. In effect, the contributions are an alternative to just relying on Google AdSense. The company said it chose partners who didn’t have too much traffic (with the exception of Mashable, which gets 40 million uniques a month) because it wanted to start small and see how much the feature would get used.
A thank you message
One of the most interesting features of the project is that after the Google Contributor payment is triggered, a user will no longer see the usual advertising from Google on the pages of the site they are visiting — instead, they will see a message from the publisher, thanking them for their contribution. And in some cases, on mobile versions of the site, ads may disappear altogether.
The Google spokesperson who described the project said Contributor was another example of the company’s attempts to help web publishers and content companies monetize their readership more easily, along with similar experiments like Google Consumer Surveys, which allows websites to require that readers fill out a survey before they get access to content.
Earlier this year, Google also launched a contribution system for YouTube video creators called “Fan Funding,”which allows viewers to donate anywhere from $1 to $500 to the channel of their choice.
Could Google Contributor become a realistic alternative to a paywall for large news sites or even individual content creators? That remains to be seen, but Google deserves some credit for continuing to experiment with different forms of monetization. Some may see it as yet another attempt by the web giant to lock them into its platform, but others will likely be willing to try just about anything to find a way of generating income from their content.