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Google Launches Spotify-Like Micro-Payment Service for News Sites, Doesn’t Actually Let Readers Pay Websites Directly

google contributorGoogle launched a new service yesterday that has me puzzled.

It’s called Contributor, and I’m really not sure what purpose it serves other than to line Google’s pockets. Erroneously calling it crowd-funding, GigaOm writes:

On Thursday it starts rolling out a new one called Google Contributor, which is designed to allow web users to pay sites that they visit a monthly fee, and in return see no Google ads when they visit those sites.

Google said the new feature is launching with 10 publishing partners, including Mashable, Imgur, WikiHow and Science Daily. When a user goes to the Google Contributor website (initial access is by invitation only), they see a list of the publishers that are participating in the beta version and they can choose whether they want to contribute $1, $2 or $3 a month.

The contribution — which is handled through a user’s Google account, using whatever payment method they have chosen for the service — doesn’t go to all of the participating websites, but is only triggered when that user visits a specific site (the service is working with U.S. sites only for now). That way, a Google spokesperson said that readers or users can support only the websites and publishers whose sites they visit frequently.

In short, Contributor is a way for readers to pay one to three dollars to get out of seeing Google-supplied adverts on all the participating sites, and instead see blank spaces where a Google ad would go:

google contributor

Any single site which participates is going to receive a tiny fraction of the money, making this new service more along the lines of Spotify than any crowd funding or micro payment service..

Frankly, I don’t see the value in it.

While this is good for Google (they get a cut for being the middleman), it doesn’t sound like a very good deal for either the sites or the visitor.

With Google being the ad network of last resort, visitors won’t be able to enjoy a completely ad-free experience. Many of the larger sites, and even mid-sized sites, sell their advert directly. Those ads will still be displayed, and so will the ads from other networks ( many of which pay more than Google, which is why they take precedence).

And with the Contributor payment being divided among all participating websites (based on their traffic from participating visitors), no single site is going to get the entire fee. At best they’ll get a few cents from each visitor, which may or may not be more than what the site would earn from Google Adsense.

So no, I don’t see the value here. I will still sign up and see if I am proven wrong, but I don’t see the value.

instead, I think sites would be better off if they signed up with Flattr, Patreon, or another similar service and ask supporters directly.

Also, I think it would have been better for Google to launch a service which let users pay specific sites, and not into a general pool of money. Many sites, including Imgur (a Google Contributor launch partner) and The Next Web let visitors pay and avoid seeing ads. (Others offer special access or paywalled reports to subscribers.)

Google might also have added the new service to Feedburner, giving sites the opportunity to monetize their RSS feeds. Subscribers could pay a dollar a month to get a full feed or the email newsletter, with non-paying subscribers limited to a partial feed. (The again, Feedburner has been neglected for so many years that it might not be possible to add new services without an expensive rebuild.)

All in all this looks like the least optimal setup, but that could be my pre-caffeine viewpoint coming to the fore.

What do you think?


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Kate November 21, 2014 um 11:28 am

The article specifically states that the money goes to the designated site, not split between all participants.

Nate Hoffelder November 21, 2014 um 11:39 am

I don’t see where it says that a single payment goes to a single site, which is what I would like to happen.

I’m pretty sure that the following suggests that the $1 to $3 payment is split between participating sites based on their traffic:

When you visit a participating website, part of your contribution goes to the creators of that site. As a reminder of your support, you’ll see a thank you message – often accompanied by a pixel pattern – where you might normally see an ad.

Edit: I went back and added the phrase "based on their traffic" to help clarify my point.

tubemonkey November 21, 2014 um 12:29 pm

As long as it remains voluntary, I have no problem with it. But if it ever became mandatory, I’d either switch search engines or stop visiting those websites altogether. I’m not about to start paying a la carte for websites. I visit too many and the monthly bill would be way too expensive.

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