Remember when iTunes was released way back in January 2001? Really, do you remember? At it’s launch Steve Jobs was confident. He knew what he was giving us and how it might transform our music listening and buying habits. At the unveiling at Macworld Expo Jobs said: “iTunes is miles ahead of every other jukebox application, and we hope its dramatically simpler user interface will bring even more people into the digital music revolution.” With that straight to the point statement the landscape for the music industry and other associated creative industries changed.
These industries didn’t know what lay ahead. Ten months after iTunes was introduced, on October 23rd, Apple released the iPod. Eighteen-months later in April 2003 – while the music industry was doing battle with file-shares, Apple opened it’s iTunes store. And within six years Apple had 70% of worldwide online digital music sales, making iTunes the largest digital music retailer.
Steve Jobs was hailed as a saviour of the music industry. He had a vision and made it work. Today, the news, media and publishing industries are crying out for a saviour that can help rescue them from the catastrophic situation that they find themselves in. Sales down and advertising at an all time low.
Some have tried, amongst them Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who in November 2007 launched the Kindle, a popular eReader that gave Amazon customers in the US access to an initial catalogue of over 88,000 digital titles. Today, there are more than 300,000 titles, including subscriptions to newspapers.
The Kindle has hype. It sold out quickly and had the support of Rupert Murdoch. Yet, the Kindle and it’s successors didn’t have the magic that Apple had, nor the practicality that is designed into every Apple product.
In the background though, Apple and Amazon are facing the monopolistic might of Google – a true online mammoth, which is looking to digitise the world’s books and create a vast online library. With a court hearing in New York next month, Google is hoping to legally confirm a deal signed last year with US authors and publishers. In the deal, Google would set up a Book Rights Registry and position itself as a PRS-style (ASCAP to our US readers) entity for writers and publishers. Some believe that this should not be allowed.
Yet this deal has forced many in the news, media and publishing industries to really have a look at how they operate and how they must make the most of the internet.
Yes, the Google Books deal would allow people to search books through it's search engine, but it would also set up a model for making money from publishing, possibly through eReaders and the like. It might also create new income streams for the news and media industries, which have been suffering since customers started to switch online, where news has available free for years because publishers wanted a slice of the online advertising pie. Sadly, as I said in my previous post, they set themselves up for a tough time, dependent on advertising income, which plummeted when the current recession hit.
And why is this Google Books deal relevant to news outlets? Well, Google has reached a settlement with book publishers in the US and news and media companies might be hoping that the online giant will hear their talk of paywalls. What they need is for Google to play ball and start paying for listing their headlines and first paragraphs through its very popular Google News aggregator.
And it appears that Google is willing to play. In an eight-page response to the Newspaper Association of America request for paid-content proposals, Google revealed that it was developing a micro-payment system for paid-for-online content.
In the document Google outlines its vision for a “premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments).
Google says that: “While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue. In addition, a successful paid content model can enhance advertising opportunities, rather than replace them.”
It confirms a Google’s vision for “a premium content ecosystem includes the following features:
· Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions
· Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price
· Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall
· Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with "subscription" label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) "first click free" access
· Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising”
The payment system, which is described as being in production, would help and confirm News International’s plans to charge for access to it’s content online within the next 12 months. Or at least it gives us a clue of how paywalls might work.
Currently most news outlets only make money online from advertising, while print makes it from both from sales and advertising. The exceptions here being titles such as The FT, The Wall Street Journal, as well as other online subscription based outlets. The industry is starting to see how valuable it could be to have committed subscribers accessing their content.
Publishers meanwhile are starting to stand firm against Google's News aggregator. In Italy, the Italian association of daily newspaper and periodical publishers, claim "members news sites receive no compensation for the news picked up by Google News Italia and if they do not appear on a Google search they are denied access to thousands of potential ‘visitors’ who generate advertising income. "Google argues that it helps newspaper websites make money through online advertising and does not misappropriate content."
And Google is planning to replicate the model that Apple develop with it’s possible initiative with news, and possibly Book. Hidden in the document Google confirms that a revenue split would be comparable to “Apple's models on iTunes and AppStore and consonant with experiments being currently conducted on YouTube.”
The question is, with rumours of an Apple Tablet, could Jobs undermine what Google might be planning?
Apple has done it before and it has the infrastructure to do it again and be the knight in shining armour for a beleaguered set of industries.
The media landscape is changing, and it’s changing fast.