The announcement of the latest Google beta offering, Google News Archive has finally pushed the "friend or foe" debate into more positive territory.

Google News Archive is being positioned by Google as a way to search for historical information online. In reality, it is Google's first significant effort to get involved with paid content, largely on an a la carte basis. The most important aspect of this is that it's the first cooperative effort between Google and publishers, with publishers happily furnishing their paid access content, on whatever basis works for them, in exchange for the huge visibility Google can provide.

Providers such as Factiva, Alacra, HighBeam, LexisNexis, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are all eagerly jumping on board this new Google initiative, despite it's potentially threatening if not disruptive effect on their business models. Google probably made their buy-ins less painful by not trying to force these publishers into a one size fits all approach, and (at least for now) doing everything for free. Google's "yes, we have no revenue model" approach is alive and well.

Google's focus on the historical aspect of this service is truly strange, since it becomes clear from your first search that the news "archive" contains information as recent as 2006. This would seem to present issues about what goes into the main Google search index, and what goes into Google News Archive. Based on our test searches, however, this really isn't much of an issue, because virtually everything we saw in Google News Archive is offered on a paid basis, and that's the true delineation between the two services. What we have here, for all practical purposes, is Google Premium Search.

It gets better. Some search results source back to Access My Library, a creative offering from ThomsonGale that lets public library users access paid content via the web from home. Even more exciting are search results from another ThomsonGale offering, Goliath, that lets users buy individual company profiles on an a la carte basis.

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Some of the news aggregators are selling articles on an a la carte basis, but we saw that HighBeam was offering access to articles in exchange for a free trial subscription, showing that Google can accommodate different business models within this service.

Okay, we're partially excited by all this because we have been predicting premium search from the big search engines for several years now. This isn't quite the offering we envisioned, but the path seems clear. Google (and count on Yahoo and Microsoft to follow) could become a powerful distribution partner for subscription content providers -- with emphasis on the word partner. Just as importantly, we are seeing a powerful tool to regain access to content that has "aged off" the open web, and in a manner that financially benefits the organizations wise enough to have held onto it.
Google News Archive looks like a friendly and attractive place for paid database content, and it's already stuffed with interesting and creative features and content. Subscription data publishers need to watch this new offering closely. Our concern? It's pretty clear from published reports that Google doesn't know where it's headed with Google News Archive, and that always risks the "bull in a china shop" scenario, but Google's new publisher-friendly approach and the underlying importance of this offering we think will push it forward in a direction that benefits us all.