Google recently began testing a new platform called Contributor. The long and short of it is that as a visitor, you can “subscribe” to a site for $1 to $3, and in return they’ll take ads off the site and give a part of the money back to the site owner. It’s sort of like a blend of Patreon and Readability (back when you could donate to the site you were saving from – as it looks like maybe they don’t do that anymore now).
It’s an interesting move by Google, in my opinion, and one that speaks volumes of some of their underlying goals. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of ways this is good for them, and can generate a lot of self-serving data about valuable content on websites and the like, so I’m stopping short of calling it an altruistic system. But, that also doesn’t detract from the value that it creates if site developers can use it as a means to maintain and encourage good maintenance and content. It also has the possibility to create marginally more stable revenue streams for sites, since subscriptions are much more consistent that pay-per-clicks.
One thing I’m really curious about, is how they decided they could walk this tightrope. On one hand, paid advertising is their bread and butter. allowing visitors to “opt out,” even if it costs money, would seem to be a process that stands in the boxing ring with the advertisers. Most specifically, I’m curious if the $3 limitation has any correlation to the “value” generated through advertising by the average user. So, if this really caught on, they wouldn’t necessarily be losing money since the PPC money the advertiser pays is basically getting paid by the visitor themselves. But, that value is low enough, that they hope advertisers won’t view it as “competition.” But from the outside, capping it at $3 seems weirdly arbitrary.
There’s another thing that definitely turns me off. They say that the ads can be replaced by a graphic or thank you message. The thank you message isn’t a big deal at all, and mostly seems reasonable. But just replacing the ads with a graphic (as they call it, a “pixel pattern”)? Why? See, for me at least, I don’t necessarily object to seeing the content of the ad itself. What bugs me is the space it uses that gets in the way of the content I want to see. If that space is just taken up by a worthless graphic, that isn’t even remotely helpful to me as a user. Maybe that’s just me, but I bet it isn’t. I think the site has the option of which way to go with it, and I’m hoping they all agree with me on this and stick to just the thank you message approach.
Something else I’m suspicious of, and this is total speculation, is that this is creating a false economy to upsell advertisers at some point. That is to say, you pay to remove the “normal” ads, but eventually they offer companies the option for “priority ads” that would still show, even for paid users. Basically, they want to create an model whereby they put users and advertises against each other, and they sit back and reap the rewards. That might be cynical of me, but, you know, money.
At this point, I’m not sure I’d use it. I think if I wanted to encourage subscriptions, I just wouldn’t have ads and would work through a system like Patreon. But, it could be good. It could also be bad. It’s just too early to tell otherwise. What do you think?