November 21, 2013 Last Updated 10:02 am

Google takes on Flipboard with new Google Play Newsstand

Is Google’s new Newsstand a game changer, or more of the same for publishers?

Maybe it is desperation, but many publishers appear to always be on the lookout for the next big thing, that new digital entity that will suddenly change the game and make them winners once again.

But if there is one thing that is constant, it is that there are more companies out there attempting to take the next penny from publishers than there are those looking to help publishers monetize their existing products. As a result, publishers are like the person in the Allstate commercial, attempting to get the dollar hanging on the fishing poll.

newsstand-feature1-ALLThe latest next big thing is Google’s new Google Play Newsstand. The good news is that it is a dramatic improvement over Google’s effort with Currents. Now, publishers will be able to sell their paywalled content within Google’s new app, rather than giving it away, Flipboard-style, in hopes of some pennies in return.

At first blush it might look as if Google were going after Apple’s own Newsstand app. But what should frighten Apple, if they are paying attention, is that Google doesn’t seem too worried about Apple’s product – it is Flipboard that is the target.

To the credit of many of the tech and media sites, they have seen this, too. Poynter’s Sam Kirkland, for instance, writes that the new Google Play Newsstand “has nothing in common with Apple’s much-maligned and same-named Newsstand, which is little more than a forced hub for certain news apps.”

What Google has done is refine its Currents offering, which had not managed to pull people from Flipboard, and make the aggregation app more friendly to publishers who want to directly monetize their content.

“But here’s the thing,” writes Kirkland, “those separate apps still exist inside the Google Play Store, and some of them, like the Journal, offer more robust features than Newsstand does. Moreover, some news organizations, like the Chicago Sun-Times (where I used to work), haven’t joined Newsstand yet, so you can only get its content via apps or the web.”

What is occurring inside the major platforms is that the distributor is often dictating the format of the content. Flipboard does this, and Currents did, as well. In some cases, like the Apple Newsstand, for instance, the app simply gathers up the various different kinds of apps being produced and displays them in one place. Apple’s Newsstand, in the end, is simply a folder with some nice added features (like automatic downloads and updatable icon images).

What Google, and publishers hope, is that launching its own Newsstand will help with the growing issue of discoverability. If readers migrate to one place, rather than having to hunt down separate stand-alone apps, or using another third party’s app such as Flipboard, that it will improve subscription sales.

For Android, the real problem remains that many of its users are not as open to spending on apps as iOS device owners have proved to be. I tend to think that this will change, but my conversations with vendors and publishers continues to reinforce the dominance of iOS.

That brings us to Amazon.com. One would think that Jeff Bezos will be thinking long and hard about the issues confronting his new jewel, The Washington Post. Ironically, Bezos may think so far out of the box that he comes up with something that excites him, but scares the heck out of other publishers – who still want, more than anything, to monetize the products they are producing now, rather than have to constantly chase the next big thing.

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