Google has offered to charge people a monthly subscription fee to read articles and gawp at photos online.
Paying for published news and features has never been attempted before, which makes Google's Contributor system a milestone for civilization.
People who subscribe to websites using Contributor will see "thank you" messages instead of Google-served ads. The monthly fee, ranging between $1 and $3 per site, will be paid to the site operator after Google takes its cut.
The US ad giant has refused to say exactly how large that cut is – there we go again, asking all the wrong questions.
"We keep a portion [of the subscription fee] to operate our advertising network on which Contributor runs. This is the same amount we charge advertisers to show their ads," a Google spokesperson told The Register.
"The spaces where the thank you messages show are ad spaces where publishers use the Google ad auction to show ads."
There is no way Google will offer a service that will decrease its ad revenue – which is the source of pretty much all of its income. So whatever a publisher makes from its Contributor subscriptions, the cut Google takes will match what the web giant would have made from the displayed ads anyway.
(Publishers are welcome to run ads from other networks alongside the Contributor "thank you" messages.)
Perhaps Google and websites heavily reliant on ads are tired of netizens using ad-blocking browser plugins. Perhaps Google just wants to prove that the vast majority of people are OK with ads, and few want to spend even $1 a month on a web subscription.
Google is running the subscription system on a "very limited" trial run. The handful of participating sites include The Onion, Urban Dictionary, Science Daily, Imgur, wikiHow and Mashable. Must-read sites, we think you'll agree. No doubt this will be an astounding success.
It's too bad the failing newspaper industry never thought of charging people for articles alongside ads; it would have helped subsidize the expensive process of paying people to research, write, photograph, design, edit, fact-check, proofread and manage.
Now we've come full circle, with Google-ad-backed publishers crushing their subscription print ancestors, and ad-slinger Google reanimating the subscription print model to make even more money.
Enjoy your "14 true stories from the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line." ®