Mini-Teardown: Google Contributor
Friday, January 9, 2015
This article is part of a series of pricing teardowns for companies and their products. I have no private information about their profitability, no knowledge of their business goals and (possibly) no particular background in their industries. I intentionally avoid performing research on what others have said as well as writing in the companies' blog posts and twitter feeds. I do this so as to ensure that my evaluation is based entirely upon their websites. As such, this analysis may contain invalid assumptions and plenty of guesswork. Fortunately, this makes the resulting analysis much more fun.
As a long-time Google user, I was intrigued when I came across a new service that it launched: Contributor by Google. It represents yet another attempt by companies to launch a mirco-funding service ensuring that content publishers are rewarded for their hard work.
I'm confident that Contributor by Google will see the same long-term dominance that Google Reader experienced. Oh, Google canceled Reader in 2013? Yes, Contributor will be canceled too. Just wait.
Google is launching its Contributor service with fewer than a dozen hand-picked websites supported. Users can sign up with Google at payment levels of $1, $2 or $3 per month. Every so often, Google plans to monitor each contributor's visits to participating sites and divvy up the cash (minus its unspecified cut) as it sees fit.
This is a somewhat improved version of Beacon Reader's model, but I still have some serious reservations about the success of this implementation.
- Google selected the wrong websites. Not just any site can join the Contributor program. In fact, at time of launch, the iconic firm had only invited a dozen websites to take part (including Mashable, Imgur and Science Daily). What do these sites have in common? They're big. They're faceless. They're run by companies (not individuals). In short, they represent the exact type of site that the average web surfer would imagine has a large bankroll and doesn't need more cash. They also represent the exact type of website that should have the resources to figure out a more efficient means of monetizing its own work.
- The subscription cost is far too low for contributors. The maximum amount that a contributor can commit each month is less than the price of a cup of coffee, a movie ticket, a paperback book, a six inch sandwich, a Netflix account and many other items that consumers buy on a regular basis. Google could easily raise the payment ceiling while still allowing customers to contribute small amounts.
- The subscription cost is far too low for producers. Websites will have to generate enormous volumes of traffic in order to monetize their users. While sites like Mashable may be able to survive with a tiny payment from each visitor, many mom and pop sites cannot.
- The value proposition to users is not obvious. Google has promised to replace the ads that a user sees with notes thanking him for his hard-earned money. That's it. One type of visual clutter is being replaced with another. There is no extra content, no additional features, no public recognition and no behind the scenes commentary for the
patrons sponsorscontributors to the sites. As a result, they will feel disconnected from the sites that they are spending their money to support.
- A much simpler form of removing ads already exists. Most web browsers allow add-ons that completely remove advertisements from all websites. These modules provide a superior user experience at a lower cost (free). After all, if a surfer is paying money, he will likely want the least visual clutter possible. Those who already use such systems will be unlikely to pay money for an inferior solution to a problem that has already been solved.
Nice try, Google. I just don't see how it's going to work. In any case, since Google didn't invite me to join this program, I have to continue to monetize this pricing website via sales of my book on software pricing and my exceptional business consulting services.