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Google Finally Offers Publishers a Decent Alternative to Apple's App Store

In the continuing war between iPads and Android tablets, Google (GOOG) has just taken its latest shot. The target is Apple's (AAPL) app subscription plan for magazine and newspaper publishers. Google hopes that by giving the publishers more of what they want at a much lower cost -- just 10 percent of what they charge, according to what a Google spokesperson told me, rather than Apple's 30 -- it will gain allies to compensate for the iPad's head start.

Apple (AAPL) recently announced its subscription plan for apps, allowing companies to sell subscription content via iPad and iPhone apps. Although it includes music services, the primarily intended users are publishers. Finally, companies aren't limited to selling one-off magazine or other content. There's just one catch: the apps also have to provide an Apple subscription link as well.

Because many people will opt for the one-click sale through the App Store, this is really Apple's way of capturing much of the business -- along with a 30 percent cut of the sale. Furthermore, consumers who buy through Apple never give their personal information to the content providers. Many publishers don't like Apple's plan because the data is important for their marketing and the commission is a big chunk out of their wallets. It's one reason that almost no large publishers signed on at the launch. They can't afford it and want a way around Apple's limitations.

Google hopes that a more publisher-friendly system like the experimental program it tried in Italy will get the publishers to throw their weight behind Android and, hopefully, entice consumers to join them. Here are some of the features that Google pushes:

  • Publishers can offer controlled access, whether as metered use or subscriptions.
  • Publishers charge what they want and deal directly with customers.
  • Special deals, like electronic version discounts for print subscribers, are possible.
  • Consumers can read content across websites and mobile apps without having to pay extra.
  • Google only takes 10 percent of the revenue, leaving the other 90 percent for the publisher.
It works because Google provides a single point of payment processing and user authentication. More importantly, it ties the publishers closer to Google and begins to pry them away from Apple, potentially making Android a richer platform for content.

Google also sticks it to Apple by making the point that One Pass works in mobile apps when the device allows transactions outside the app. That means that publishers should be able to use Google's system even in their iPhone and iPad apps.

Apple's approach to snagging publishers subscription sales only works when it and the publisher offer exactly the same thing. In this case, many customers will opt to buy via Apple's single click, versus getting redirected to the publisher's site and filling out purchase information that Apple already has on file.

But Google's approach is sneaky. The lack of portability among platforms has bothered consumers. Buy an iPad app and you might have pay again if you instead want to read content on your PC or on an Android smartphone. So, offering buy-once-read-everywhere access will have a strong consumer appeal.

That access completely depends on Google's content management platform, and that's something that Apple doesn't have. It can sell a subscription, but the subscription will be tied to that app and won't have the portability that Google offers. Many people will opt for paying the publisher instead. And so, Google may finallyh have given the publishers a tool to compete with the App Store.


Image: morgueFile user roshibaba, site standard license.
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