Whatever happen to Google Contributor?

Google Contributor is an ongoing/abandoned experiment by Google where people can opt-out from the lowest valued advertisements and rather help directly fund the websites they frequent through Google’s ad platform. Instead of ads, they see kittens, thank-you notes, or the ad is hidden from view. Two years after the service was launched without any fanfare, Google has yet to market it in any significant way and to make it available outside the United States.

It has been a year since I first wrote about Google Contributor, and it’s looking like the subscription service hasn’t received much love and attention over at Google.

Update: Ten days after first publishing this, Google has stopped accepting new sign-ups for Contributor.

Google hasn’t even bothered to announce Google Contributor in any of the company’s customer-facing blogs let alone market the service in any significant way. The program has been mentioned on the AdSense blog, but only to explain it to publishers. Website publishers are offered a badge they can use to promote the service for Google, and that seems to be just about the extent of their marketing campaign.

I haven’t got any subscription numbers for Google Contributor, but I doubt it can be all that many considering that Google hasn’t bothered to market the service at all. Based on searches on Google News, Bing News, and Twingly, it would seem that the Contributor program has only been mentioned six times in the media since the beginning of this year.

The Drum reported in December last year that Google Contributor would be coming to the United Kingdom in early 2016. Early 2016 came and went, and the Contributor program is still limited to the United States only.

Google Contributor started by offering multiple price tiers from 3 USD/month. In February 2016, they bumped the minimal contribution to 7 USD/month, according to 9to5Google.

Then sometime this summer, Google also instigated stronger geoblocking restrictions and kicked out their international subscribers. The program was never open outside the United States, but they previously would accept anyone with a U.S. credit card.

Given the stricter geoblocking and changed price tier, it would seem Google is working on fine-tuning the service and are optimizing it for the North American market. The problem with this strategy is that what works in the United States might not work elsewhere, and by blocking willing and paying customers they’re not gathering any data on how the service would be received following a general availability elsewhere.

Google has two programs following the pay-creators-directly-see-fewer-ads formula. The second being YouTube Red, a different service limited to the United States where subscribers pay a monthly fee for access to YouTube’s enormous video catalog without ads.

I find it surprising that Google won’t accept money from anyone who is willing to pay regardless of where they’re located. There shouldn’t be any need to sign new contracts with creators as they’ve already given Google broad global distribution rights to their videos.

The success of both Google Contributor and YouTube Red depends on user adoption and their willingness to pay. That Google is turning away paying customers just because they’re located outside the designated test market doesn’t sound like it would help increase the number of paying subscribers.

My own revenue data from Google AdSense, admittedly a very small dataset, show that Google Contributor subscribers have a higher revenue per thousand-visitor (RPM) than non-subscribers. I’ve found that Google Contributor subscribers pay 155 % higher RPM rates than the average for the United States. This number is likely higher as I can’t correct for Google Contributor subscribers who see ads and thus help raise the average RPM for ad-viewing segment.

Visitors being willing to pay a little money out of their own pocket means Google can collect higher rates from the advertisers making both Google and websites more profit, and it means visitors should be seeing better ads. I’ve no trouble claiming the Contributor program will help the industry create better ads, as advertisers can’t afford to make mistakes when the RPM costs per failed ad go up.

I believe that the Google Contributor program could be part of the solution to the problem of failing ad profits (a worry for publishers and Google alike) and advertisement fatigue among users. I also ope we’d see readers and publishers establish a better and more respectful relationship when readers start to chip in some funds of their own. But I guess we wouldn’t see what Google contributor could develop to and what changes it could drive if Google doesn’t have any faith in their own service and wouldn’t do anything to attract more awareness about it and more subscribers over time.