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March 22, 2019, 8:51 a.m.
Business Models
LINK: blog.google  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   March 22, 2019

On the heels of Facebook’s first local news conference this week, Google announced a new subscription boot camp for eight local publishers in the U.S. and Canada.

The Local Media Association is partnering with the Google News Initiative to carry out the six-month program, bringing in consultants to evaluate and revamp their subscription process.

“Those chosen must be dedicated to figuring out a subscriptions strategy with buy-in and direct involvement from the highest executives (including the CEO) in their respective companies. They’ll come with open minds, a willingness to experiment and a community spirit built around sharing what they learn along the way. We’re looking to help these eight publishers make significant leaps forward with their subscription businesses, the kinds of leaps that can transform these organizations,” LMA president Nancy Lane wrote in Google’s blog post about the effort.

It sounds similar to Facebook’s subscription accelerator for local news (there’s also a sibling membership program), though that incubated 14 metro publishers, more than Google’s eight. Facebook collected its accelerator lessons in a roundup here. This Google-LMA “subscription lab” is looking for “a mix of both chain-owned and independent community and metro titles.”

Digiday noted that Google’s effort follows its Subscribe with Google test, a heavy lift for even large publishers to integrate the product — that was supposed to be a streamlined way for readers coming through Google to subscribe — into their reader revenue processes:

Subscribe with Google has earned mixed grades from publishers, in large part because of the heavy work required to integrate it into their products. More than six months after Subscribe with Google was announced, many of the launch partners still hadn’t finished implementing it, as most balanced it with their other development and technology plans. Today, less than 20 have fully implemented Subscribe with Google, a Google spokesperson said.

“No disrespect to Google, because it’s hard no matter what. But if I add Subscribe with Google, my workload doubles,” said one source at a publisher that had experimented with Subscribe with Google last year.

Facebook and Google are both putting more emphasis on local news this year (where you at, Apple?) as, you know, local news tries to stay afloat. At the Facebook-Knight Foundation-Online News Association local news huddle in Denver this week, Facebook largely stayed in the shadows aside from sharing its Today In and news desert research news earlier this week. Local publishers and journalists shared case studies on their audience engagement and business models (see some initial videos and the schedule here). Brian Stelter rounded up some quotes under Chatham House Rule in his newsletter Wednesday night (it’s under a “The Sunny Side…” subhead…):

— The view from FB: “When we’ve seen success to date, it’s really about collaboration and partnership…”

— “We’re not making news for people, we are making news with people…”

— “How do we enable people to pay for news on their own terms, not ours?”

That last quote could come from Google or Facebook these days.

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