In a not-so-shocking coincidence, Google announced its own subscription plan for publishers that allows content owners to set prices, terms and keep their relationships with customers.
The details of the plan were revealed in a blog post. Eric Schmidt highlighted Google One Pass in Germany. The timing of this move is almost comical. It's as if Google was waiting for Apple to detail its in-app purchase plan for subscriptions, let the backlash ensue and then swoop in to let publishers know there are alternatives.
Google's FAQ even addresses the question of why the search giant is launching Google One Pass. The answer: "Google cares a lot about helping high quality content thrive online and about the future of journalism." Google should have said: "We have an opportunity to potentially kick Apple's apps so we need your help."
I argued that a few big app players could get together and do an App Store work stoppage. That scenario is unlikely, but it's clear Apple and Google are battling for the publisher partnerships. Today, the iPad is the only tablet that's a viable outlet for publishers. In a few months, Apple won't have the field to itself as Android tablets hit the market en masse.
Google says its One Pass effort allows publishers to experiment with how they charge for content. The other key point: Google will let publishers give existing print subscribers free or discounted access to digital content. Google will handle these micropayments via Google Checkout.
As noted by the Nieman Journalism Lab, Google is offering flexibility. Remember that Google doesn't need a 30 percent cut because it banks the advertising. The Financial Times, however, says Google will take a 10 percent cut of subscription revenue. That tax is much more reasonable. If you sell a subscription for $15 via Google you get $13.50. Apple will give you $10.50.
The rub here is that Apple has credit cards for its 160 million user accounts. Google doesn't have those credit cards attached.
Bottom line: Publishers are still stuck in the middle of a giant app distribution pissing match, but at least Google and Apple are competing.