Premium Content, Deep Web, Micropayments and Google
Since this was written, Google has introduced Click-Free, which lets sites allow initial access to visitors but lock them out of deep visits and now OnePass, which is similar but more flexible and powerful.
Rumour has it that Google will be introducing a Paypal like payment system. Interestingly. Yahoo has recently introduced search for the "deep web" - the part of the web that wants your money in exchange for reading their content. Some folks see these ideas as connected.
I have little doubt that Google can compete with PayPal or perhaps even replace it entirely (Google says that's not their intent, though). It's the next step that I question: the idea that Google will front-end access to the premium content by some sort of all-in-one subscription service or subscription packaging similar to what cable TV providers do. I suppose it's possible, but I still think the amount of free content on the web will keep premium content in extremely tight niches.
What about the low end? Certainly there are plenty of now free blogs who would love to charge something for access to their content. Perhaps Google will try to revive the idea of micropayments: they'd charge you a subscription fee for certain subject areas - let's say ten dollars a month for tech subjects. They'd then have to convince a lot of content providers like me that I'd be better off if I let Google syndicate my content. They'd then dribble out micropayments to the sites as people visited - this is just the mirror image of advertisement supported sites.
I don't see it. First, I think there is a benefit to advertising supported sites: if you land on a page of mine that isn't quite what you wanted, an ad on that page might just be exactly what you wanted. But then nothing says you can't have both: advertising and syndication can mix. But more important, I think, is resistance from both the consumers and the providers. Consumers aren't going to embrace a subscription model unless all the free sources dry up - it's Gresham's law for the web. In turn, the content providers aren't going to risk switching their model unless they see the same trend. I just can't see this happening.
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