Blog Post

Why Google’s One Pass Could Be a Ticket to Nowhere

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Google has gotten a lot of attention for the launch of One Pass, the all-in-one subscription plan for publishers that the search giant revealed earlier today — primarily because it made for a nice counterpoint to Apple’s new in-app subscription system, which launched on Tuesday. While Apple’s offering is closed and takes a big chunk of the revenue from publishers, Google’s (s goog) takes a much smaller cut — and because it’s based on the web and not on controlling access to a walled garden, Google’s system is much more open. That said, however, it’s not at all clear that publishers will get anywhere by signing up for it, open or not.

The main benefits of Google’s plan are fairly obvious: It doesn’t force publishers to provide the company with preferential access to their customers, the way Apple does by requiring in-app purchasing for all subscription services, and Google is taking only 10 percent of the revenue any publishers bring in via its payment system, while Apple takes 30 percent of all subscription fees. On top of that, as MG Siegler notes, the One Pass system provides publishers with access to information about those who sign up — names, email addresses, zip codes and so on — which is crucial data that content companies use to market their services to advertisers. Apple turns this option off by default, and users have to opt in.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Google’s One Pass is pretty much just a warmed-over content paywall. All it does is collect the money for publishers who want to put up a toll-booth around their content. In fact, the thing it resembles the most — as Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab notes — is the Journalism Online Press+ system that entrepreneur Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal (s nws) executive Gordon Crovitz have been peddling to newspapers and magazines for the past year or more, without much success.

Like that system, Google’s service is essentially designed to handle the payment processing for multiple subscription sites, so users can theoretically sign up for dozens without worrying about being nickel-and-dimed by each one. There’s just one problem: There’s no sign that users have any interest in doing this — or at least, not in large enough numbers to make it work for anyone other than perhaps The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. Those who have put up new paywalls, including The Times of London, have seen the vast majority of their readers disappear into the wind.

One of the reasons users of Apple products like the iPhone and the iPad (s aapl) seem a lot more willing to pay for things like apps is because the experience is so much better and paying is so easy. Despite that, magazine and newspaper publishers have have had little success so far in getting people to pay for their apps. Why would it be any easier with Google’s One Pass? If anything, it’s likely to be even harder, because it’s based on the open web — and users are likely to notice that free content is all around them, while iPhone and iPad apps do a fairly good job of disguising that fact.

So congratulations to Google for making some hay with its launch, but any publisher who sees One Pass as some kind of golden ticket is dreaming in Technicolor.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user David Kozlowski

47 Responses to “Why Google’s One Pass Could Be a Ticket to Nowhere”



  2. So to summarize what you are saying…

    Google = Bad because people want stuff for free
    Apple = Good because people want stuff for free but are willing to pay if it’s pretty.

    I’m going to have to agree because Apple hipsters are willing to pay for content they can get for free.

    • Right. “Apple hipsters” could have worked when there were 2 million Mac users. Today, we have over 160 million owners of iOS devices, plus tens of millions of Mac users. I got news for you: majority are ordinary people with ordinary paycheques.

      This isn’t about a paywall as it is. People like free (not just Google users). However, as iTunes Music Store, App Store and Mac Store have shown, when you have a simple, easy and straightforward way to find and buy stuff, and that stuff is cheap, people will gladly pay, rather than scour the web for free. This is Apple’s advantage and Google’s disatvantage: Google is building a paywall, while Apple has much more than just a paywall.

  3. I was curious about the interesting photo you selected for this piece, and couldn’t help noticing that it’s marked “(c) all rights reserved” on Flickr, ie standard copyright and not Creative Commons, which is what your “courtesy” link in the photo credit suggests. You may want to double-check your attribution.

    Good piece, btw. I can picture a thousand powerpoints in publishers’ boardrooms pitching this as the next business model — should buy some people jobs for another year anyway.

    On the other hand, I don’t see any need for controversy here. How is providing publishers ways to experiment cheaply with business models ever a bad thing?

  4. “the One Pass system provides publishers with access to information about those who sign up — names, email addresses, zip codes and so on.”

    Hold on, you put that in the “good news?” I’m sorry, but just because publishers have been selling our personal information for years doesn’t make it right. I work in advertising and I know how it works and frankly, it’s disgusting. Truthfully, to make an effective ad you don’t need to know specifics like addresses. That’s all for the smoke and mirrors tap dancing show agencies perform to make their clients feel better about running ads. And even if it was really important to advertisers, who cares? Are we going to put the needs of advertisers in front of what’s good for consumers?

  5. While I like the idea of free content supported by ads, with the explosion of online content/sites and resulting fragmentation of user base how many ad-driven sites can be supported that produce good original content? You need to run a very low opex company which typically means shallow research ability, or perhaps depth in one very focused niche.

    I’m a happy paying subscriber to broad focus publications like The New Yorker. Even though most of its content is free online I like the tactile feel of the magazine and its $1/issue cost is reasonable. New Yorker supports itself with ads within the magazine as well, hence I think a combination of ad-driven and monthly payment models has a future. (that said, its ipad paid app is worthless).

  6. Let’s think about the opportunity here.

    Easy payments before reading can be formed into easy cash after enjoying the read.
    The way is towards lower cost; paving the way for easy micro payments & micro donations.

    The paradigm will shift from forced payment into giving back! This is only a small step.

  7. I never understand why big media group like News corp don’t develop their own platform and bundle up their content. If Murdoch offers a bundle offer of all his newspapers in the UK, I bet it will sell better than the online subscription of Times at the moment. Who reads one newspaper anymore?

    • What story is that? The one where Macs have outgrown PC sales for 19 quarters in a row and take in more than 35% of the profits from the sale of all computers?

      The history you think is repeating is not the history that actually occurred.

  8. What not charge 3% like the credit card companies? For content publishers, it’s challenging enough trying to charge anything for something previously given away free online without having to contend with fees of 30% (Apple) or 10% (Google).

    • Credit card companies aren’t hosting, updating, syncing and downloading the content nor providing any kind of DRM, an enjoyable user interface nor or they providing a storefront.

    • Danno Bonano

      Think of Apple like a Walmart store. Walmart charges publishers 30% margin to stock their magazines and charges more for premium product placement and in Walmart flyers and advertisements. If other people want to sell in Apple’s store with 150 million+ credit card customers, they need to cover their distribution costs. People forget that publishers make money on advertisements while subscription costs simply cover distribution/circulation costs. For those of you that feel sorry for publishers, don’t. They are actually retaining 70% of their circulation costs in addition to what they are making from advertising. Advertising drives on average $2-$4 per subscriber. Publishers simply want more subscribers and the iOS platform will give them that.

      As for the Rhapsody’s of the world: they need to come up with a viable business model. Acting as an additional middle man is not one of them. They are simply thinking that everyone should push their service for free while they make the profit. That’s really arrogant, selfish thinking.

      All they need to do is charge a subscription from computers/desktops of say $8/month and if you want to have it in iOS it’s an additional $2/month. Apple gets $0.60 per subscription and Rhapsody get’s additional revenue. They don’t lose anything on their base subscription. Netflix will go this way. Apple is simply saying, if there is a cost being charged to subscribers for iOS, that same deal needs to be offered within the app. A fair fee for putting your stuff for sale in a successful storefront with 150 million + active customers.

  9. So Matt Ingram’s argument is that people don’t like to pay for media content. So Google’s charging 10% for processing is likely not to cause more sales. But Apple charging 30% for processing will result in more sales because? And let me get this right Google’s subscription service is just a “warmed over content-paywall”. While what Apple is providing is a NOT “warmed over content-paywall”?

    • I believe Google’s service is just another website which can be accessed by any computer anywhere, whereas Apple is talking about dedicated apps which only work on iDevices and are customized for their limitations and strengths.
      The publishing world has been trying the pay-per-view websites for years now, and no one cares.
      And yes, people might not care about dedicated publishing apps either, whether Apple charges 30% or 5%.

  10. As a small publisher I am very excited about One Pass. I offer content that is not available everywhere like the news is. I would love to charge for specific content that has a much higher production value and at the same time give away all the other content.

  11. Hate to say it but seems like the web is moving toward wall gardens of paid content. If this is open to any publisher, right down to the smallest blog, it may catch on and people will just get used to clickin one button to pay for access. Plus google makes things so easy to implement that publishers won’t be able to resist. Kudos to them for this development!

  12. I don’t know what you’re trying to say, they’re all paywalls, including Apple’s payment subscription system. If publishers don’t have content that users are willing to pay for, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, people just won’t pay. Content, not experience, is what keep readers come back. That’s why the magazine subscriptions on iPad declined so much since launch. The novelty of the “experience” worn off.

    It’s up to the publishers to get the content and pricing right. Google just provides them an alternative platform to Apple.

    • what he is trying to say is people do not want to pay for news content, magazine content, and such, they don’t want a monthly bill…. Apple recognizes this, that is what iTunes is all about… NO SUBSCRIPTION per month….. so does anyone that is smart, rhapsody is a joke, after all these years only 750,000 people? they are idiots, no one wants to pay and pay and pay for what they can buy one time, this has been proven over and over and over again for 10 years and more.

      lots of people “get it”… but few newspapers and magazine publishers are smart yet… as you’ve seen with Google, smart is relative though, Google copied Apple’s device OS, they copied Apple’s App Store, they copied the app concept, they … well… smartened up…. rather than copying something lame like Rhapsody, they copied Apple… everytime Apple comes out with a product, like the iPad, Google is there to copy it…. they sort of copied subscriptions, but at a lame level… how is this going to help the app developers? the subscriptions are all web based….

      free will happen with publishers too, someone is going to recognize that they must give the newspaper or magazine away for free, and use advertising to make the money…

      as soon as one does this, the rest will suddenly become… well… smart….

      get it?

      and Apple does not charge for “free” content…. get it again? where Google charges 10% for web content for christ’s sake… WEB CONTENT…. something people have been getting for free for years, and they are not going to change because it is little easier to pay… Hello???? that has been proven with other web content, like the idiots and Rhapsody….

      • “Apple does not charge for “free” content…. get it again? where Google charges 10% for web content for christ’s sake… WEB CONTENT…. something people have been getting for free for years”

        They’re actually free content, you will find the same content free on their websites. They repackage it, publish it as an app, and some people are willing to pay for it. That’s why publishers are confused, they think a different platform would help them charge people for content that they’re unwilling to pay when consumed on a website.

        They want both the ad money they make online with free content and subscription money in app store, but don’t have the resources to make separate content for each platform. actually more likely it’s not economically viable to have app-only publication anyway. If anything, the tablet possibility just makes publishers refocus on finding a new model where they can charge readers again, not relying on ad dollars.

    • “Novelty — That’s why the magazine subscriptions on iPad declined so much since launch”
      Not sure that speculation is the reason – Most so far have been big, bloated downloads with terrible interfaces.

      • as an example of someone who gets it, ABC has an iPad app where you can watch all the current content from ABC TV shows…

        YOU DON”T PAY a monthly subscription, you get the current content ALL FOR FREE…. you watch a few commercials embedded in their TV Shows….

        they get it, they are SMART… and a run away success…. now everyone is scrambling to copy them, CBS, NBC… everyone…

        you can’t turn a degree of rotation without some news program like 60 mins with another FREE app with FREE content, just watch the commercial thank you very much…

        guess who is making the money…. Apple doesn’t charge them… EVEN FOR THE FREE DOWNLOAD….. Apple gets it…

        this is what subscriptions will turn into, FREE… on APPLE’s app store… as soon as some idiot publisher wakes up and smells the roses…

        by the way, i highly recommend the ABC iPad app, very well done. and NO CRASHING battery draining FLASH wrapper… yehhh….

      • Actually, many of these mags and papers try to be “new” and haven’t really tried to see it from the long-term news reader’s perspective. I don’t need weird navigation rules like in PopSci, I need something that feels natural and allows me to benefit from the digital nature of the new content. Let me decide what I want downloaded on my machine and what is to be downloaded as I need it. Use the machine’s ability to do things on it’s own based on a schedule I define. Let me choose the ads I want to see and don’t just force ads on me. I understand they need to pay for the paper but why not let me ask for ads from Tech stores like Best Buy or ads for Travel deals alomg with ads which are “pushed”. These ads can be charged more to the supplier since you can prove that the user wants to read them. We have yet to see anything which really uses the technology well. The day we do, we’ll recognize it immediately and all other papers and mags will be forced to change quickly.

  13. Bwahahaha… the truth comes out and its biased because it picks on Google?

    I find it interesting how hypocritical Google fans have been over this. First they bash Apple, then praise Google for doing about the same thing PLUS providing users info to publishers. Good for publishers, worse for consumers.. yet people are all over defending Google and hating on Apple.

    Nobody will use one pass.. I love Google, I use lots of their products and am using reader daily. I even have a site using their checkout. There is no value in what they are offering.

    I can’t believe the hypocrites that have come out of the woodwork lately.

    This is a good and true blog.

  14. If One Pass fails it will be because paywalls didn’t work out, which will mean the same result for Apple, too. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with what Google are offering in relation to Apple. It’s the underlying false premise that’ll likely lead to failure.

  15. A complete biased blog! I can’t believe there is no forward thinking applied in this writing …. just want to assume how things are today and how it was yesterday hence things should continue the same tomorrow! Publishers didn’t have much paid content so far, doesn’t mean it will be true forever and it doesn’t mean they don’t like to get paid for online contents either! They just didn’t have a single focal point to start which Google One Pass provides!

    • well blogs are op-ed by their nature, and it’s arguably all speculation as to it’s success or failure at this point. An interesting read, but pairing it with an alternative or dissenting viewpoint would make it seem more balanced and comprehensive.

    • At the moment Google are juggling a phone OS, a tablet OS and a netbook OS. There are talks at some point of everything being integrated but at the moment they are just that. Talks.

      Apple at least are delivering today what they are talking about. No “we’ll do it for only 10% but it doesn’t actually work they way Apple’s system does”

      Comparing Apples to Apples the delivery system just isn’t in place with Google for now whereas it is with Apple.