hey Google—want my money? come and get it!

Some years ago I made Google News my browser’s home page, feeling fed up with CNN, which had been my home page before that. I was excited by the idea of receiving news stories from many different sources, and by being able to customize the page to my location and interests. It seemed like a great idea, and it was free.

Now I’m bored of Google News. When I open Firefox each morning I’ll see the same news stories that were there three days ago, and which I haven’t read because I’m not interested. There are some aspects of the page that are customizable, but Google has not granted me any of the powers over it that I really want. The reason, I believe, is that it’s a free service; they’re not directly earning any money from me. If they make Google News more useful to me, what’s in it for them? Instead they focus their effort on sending me e-mail solicitations to use their AdWords service.

Well, I have news for you, Google: I’m willing to pay you. You can charge me for news. More specifically, you can charge me for a news interface that I like. Instead of scheming indirect ways to siphon money from my wallet, why don’t you just let me give it to you?

Here’s how. Your news page might be laid out much as it is now, but with some important additions. Aside from obvious things like refreshing the content more often and drawing from a wider variety of sources, you will offer each story with seven elements:

  • a headline
  • a graphic
  • a short abstract or preview of the content
  • the author
  • the publisher
  • the word count or page size
  • a price

That’s right: a price. That price will be set by the publisher. When I click on a story, my account will be debited that amount. Your cut will be whatever you negotiate with the content providers, but let’s say 5%. Providers can offer stories for free if they want, but otherwise, they can charge whatever they think they can get.

In exchange for my money, you’ll offer me much more powerful customization features than you do now. I’ll be able to tell you who my preferred publishers and writers are, what my preferred topics are, what mix of stories I want to see on the page, and so on. You’ll let me rate stories, authors, and publishers so you can fetch better stuff for me and for other users. In addition, I’ll be able to dismiss stories from the page with a click, and block certain writers, publishers, or topics from showing up on my page.

What would I be willing to pay for a news story? That depends. But if a newspaper costs about $1.50 now, and I read 10 stories in it, that implies an average price of $0.15. For a long investigative piece by, say, Seymour Hersh, I might pay $1.00 or more, depending on what it’s about. For high-quality, relevant stories that interest me I’d be willing to spend a few dollars a day.

I don’t think it would be difficult to talk content providers into doing this. It solves the thorny problem of how to monetize their content online. If 1,000 people download a 10-cent story, that’s $100—better than nothing. A lot better. If you manage to sell it to 20,000 people, that’s $2,000. And your cut, Google, is $100. Not bad for one story.

Content providers worry about competing with all the free content online. Well, a lot of that is not worth anything more. And if a pay facility like this existed, content providers could stop putting their stuff up for free.

In sum, what I want is a non-feed-based news aggregator which functions as a vending machine powered by microtransactions, over which I have godlike powers of customization.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be you, Google. It probably won’t be. Someone else could implement this idea. I know that some people in Silicon Valley read my blog (thank you!)—maybe one of you could run with this ball. I know that if I were an Internet entrepreneur, instead of an author with a lone website, I would.

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