Large multinational corporations and consumer brands spend big bucks on market research, and for good reason. Figuring out what consumers are thinking about and what they want can help inform crucial product development and marketing decisions.

If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, having access to similar market research insight is probably a very appealing proposition, but the costs typically put that market research out of reach.

Google is hoping to change that with a new offering called Google Consumer Surveys.

As detailed on the Google Small Business Blog, Consumer Surveys is designed to be “a fast, accurate, and affordable way to do online market research”:

[With Consumer Surveys] you can create an online survey in minutes, have responses within hours and fully analyzed results in days. We do all the heavy lifting for you, finding interesting nuggets of information (or “insights”) and providing you with tools for digging deeper.

The cost: 10 cents per response for the general U.S. population or 50 cents per response for custom audiences. Google says that pricing allows companies to obtain market research data at a fraction of the cost of similar data provided by other parties.

Already, a variety of companies have been trialing Consumer Surveys, including notable brands like Lucky Brand Jeans, and needless to say, it’s reasonable to expect that others will be interested in putting this new offering from Google to work.

But what’s really interesting about Consumer Surveys is where Google is getting its responses from: publishers.

As AdWeek’s Mike Shields explains, Google is working with publishers to make the data collection side of Consumer Surveys a paywall alternative:

Here’s how it works: When users visit the Web sites of partners like the New York Daily News and the Texas Tribune, they’ll find some articles partially blocked. If they want to continuing reading, they’ll have to answer a question, or microsurvey, courtesy of Google.

What’s in it for publishers? Advertisers pay Google to run the surveys, and Google pays sites 5 cents per response. For sites with a lot of traffic, that can add up to serious cash. Publishers can implement Google Customer Surveys on as many stories they’d like—as is the case with partner—or in a metered, frequency-capped fashion (as is the case with

According to Google’s Paul McDonald, “This is a new way to monetize digital content without a paywall. It’s important to Google that there is high quality content on the Internet.”

That makes sense, and certainly many publishers concerned about what a paywall might do to their online readership will be intrigued by the possibility of monetizing content without having to erect a paywall, or put a substantial amount of content behind a paywall.

This said, there are obvious concerns about user experience. As AdWeek’s Shields observes, certain market research-oriented questions may seem “inane or random”, having little to do with a publisher’s content, raising questions about just how valuable Consumer Surveys can really be for publishers which are justifiably cautious about prompting users to take action in an intrusive and irrelevant fashion.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if Google eventually expands out to apply more traditional ads to this model. Shields notes “It’s curious that Google focused on market research and didn’t elect to test a product that provides users access to content in exchange for viewing a display ad or watching a video spot,” to which Google replies, “We feel like spending six to eight seconds on a survey is a good tradeoff compared to watching a 30-second ad.”

That may be true, but at some point, publishers making 5 cents a pop for survey completions may ask themselves, “Does this really change the fact that we’re continuing to trade print dollars for digital pennies?”