Google Wallet for content: Is it already doomed?

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Google has launched an experimental service that allows people to pay for online content using Google Wallet.

According to the internet giant, the service will allow people to pay for individual online articles for anywhere between US$0.25 and US$0.99 each using its virtual money service. Once you buy the page, it’s yours forever says Google.

“Users love free content, and so we expect that advertising will remain the most effective monetisation model for most content on the Web,” the company said in a draft post found by CNET. “However we know that there is more great content that creators could bring to the Web if they had an effective way to sell individual articles that users can find with search.”

As CNET notes, Google isn’t the first company to try to play in this space. The likes Flooz, Beenz, CyberCash, Bitpass, Peppercoin and DigiCash all tried and failed. None of them, however, were anywhere near as established as Google. Google Wallet also already has thousands of users, all of whom know how to use it.

That might mean it stands a better chance than some of the products that have come before it, but it doesn’t guarantee success. People are used to free content on the web. Getting them away from those habits won’t be easy.

Veteran Silicon Valley reporter Tom Formeski notes that the problem may extend a lot further than that though. He reckons that the product’s half-arsed ‘almost launch’ suggests that Google might not be entirely serious about it:

But how serious is this effort to help publishers monetise their content? How is it that a launch of this type, potentially affecting thousands of media companies, is announced with an obscure post discovered by CNET?

This, he says, is actually symptomatic of a consistent failure on the part of Google to market its products properly:

This demonstrates how bad Google is at marketing its services and why so many of its initiatives fail to gain traction: it doesn’t understand how to market anything. It’s because the engineering culture abhors marketing of any kind.

While that may, in part, be down to the fact that marketing is considered “fake” in tech circles. According to Formeski, this is why Apple is so despised by some people in the industry. Its products are considered to be clever pieces of marketing rather than serious computing devices.

Moreover, says the Silicon valley veteran, the reluctance of Google to properly market its products may well be down to the fact that it hasn’t in the past:

Google became popular without any marketing. When I used to meet with the founders they were proud of the fact that Google didn’t do any marketing. Build it and they will come was the attitude.

That works sometimes, often it doesn’t. In today’s media noisy world even Google needs to do marketing to be seen.

His assertion that we should “stick this one on the pile of failed Google ventures” and that, with its 20% time, it has wasted “huge amounts of time from some of the top engineers in the world” is contentious.

Great products have come out of 20% time, some unexpectedly so. Yes a number of the products built in this time have been killed, but failure is an important part of innovation.

It’s unlikely that this will be the ultimate solution to every online publisher’s problems, but it might offer a solution. Just as there’s no one solution to sorting out music buying in the age of digital, there will never be one solution in publishing. Advertising, paywalls and micropayments all have their merits and downfalls.

Google’s new product might succeed and it might fail, but having someone could see it being a part of the evolution of the industry.

There’s just one thing niggling me though. Why hasn’t Google marketed it as a mobile product first? Wallet’s most innovative features are mobile-based. Where’s the integration with its AR technology? Imagine taking a photo of a specific book and Google giving you the option to buy quality articles on the book and topics relating to it at a reasonable price. Wouldn’t that be really innovative?

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