Google plans to launch a system that will allow publishers to charge users for content.
The news was revealed at the end of last week by Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
"Later this year, Google will launch an integrated payment system that will allow users to buy (news content) with one click and publishers to use a single infrastructure for Web, mobile and tablet to monetise their content," the paper told readers.
The system, dubbed Google Newspass, has taken some in the media world by surprise. Google has made a name for itself by championing the 'free' Internet, creating unpaid-for applications and gathering free content from around the web – much to the annoyance of many newspapers and sites trying to make a living out of their content.
The search giant's activities as a news aggregator earned it the wrath of Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson, who dubbed the company and its ilk "tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet" for making money out of publishers' content without paying them a fee.
Details of the new scheme are sketchy, but it appears to offer consumers a single log-in that would provide access to a range of paid-for sites, which would offer a range of flexible payment options, from one-off micro-payments to long-term subscriptions.
It is expected that users will gain access to so-called 'pay-walled' sites by clicking an icon to pay for access using a system similar to Google Checkout.
Google denies there's anything new in the plans. While the company has thrived on opening up web content to as wide an audience as possible, it has also acknowledged that the recycling of an increasingly small pool of 'real' news sites is not in consumers' interests.
"We’ve consistently said we’re talking with news publishers about ways we can work together, including whether we can help them with technology to power any subscription services they may be thinking of building," a Google spokesman told The New York Times tech blog Media Decoder.
Google Newspass is expected to launch later this year.