Reports: Google working on news, music services

Google would offer people the option of making individual purchases as well as buying subscriptions

Google is developing services to let consumers pay for access to news articles and songs through individual purchases and subscriptions, according to various news reports.

The system to access fee-based news articles is called Newspass and would give people a single log-in and payment account to access the "paywalls" of multiple publications, according to the reports, which were triggered by an article last week in Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

The move is seen as an olive branch for the publishing industry from Google, which many news organizations blame for the revenue crisis their publications have faced in recent years. Google has been accused of using third-party news content to build traffic for its search engines, specifically its Google News service. Google counters that it only serves up headlines, short text blurbs and thumbnail pictures on its pages, and that it always links them to articles in the original publishers' Web sites.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Google will launch a music download service later this year, and add a subscription option to it next year.

The music service would be tied to Google's search engine, thus building on Google's existing music search features, which let people play back songs right from Google's search results page through partnerships with online music providers.

Google's music service would also be designed to work with mobile phones that run the company's Android OS, according to the Journal.

The two new systems signal an interesting evolution in Google's monetization strategy toward vehicles that are more complex than purely online advertising, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

"Having observed Apple create a great channel for content through iTunes for its platforms, Google is seeing that it may be a valid and sizeable way to make money and create partnerships with its own channels," Hilwa said via e-mail.

"This is a departure from the eyeballs-only strategy of advertising that has so far characterized Google's approach. It looks like Google is starting to get into the 'freemium' age in a more serious way," he added.

Google spokesman Chris Gaither declined to comment about Newspass specifically, but pointed out that the company has acknowledged multiple times having conversations with publishers regarding ways to collaborate and partner.

These discussions include "whether we can help them with technology to power any subscription services they may be thinking of building," he said via e-mail.

For example, in September of last year, Google submitted a document to the Newspaper Association of America in which it outlined how future and existing features in Google services like its Checkout online payment product could be used by publishers to charge for access to their content.

In December, David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said at the World Newspaper Congress: "We're actively exploring technology solutions that might help publishers with some of the logistical problems in charging for content, such as billing systems for subscriptions or micropayments."

Meanwhile, Google spokesman Anthony House declined to comment about the music service report, but said that at Google's I/O developer conference in May, the company previewed an updated user interface for the music player of the Android mobile operating system and also previewed music downloads from the Android market. Google also showed a preview of streaming DRM-free music from a desktop application to an Android device, House said.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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