Google drops 'first click free' policy forcing publishers to offer free content

Google drops 'first click free' policy forcing publishers to offer free content

Google has announced that its contentious "first click free" policy will be replaced with a new sample-based model created to bolster digital subscriptions as well as the revenue of media houses. The policy upset publishers that require subscriptions, believing it undercut their efforts to get readers to pay for news.

This is the most significant step by Google to appease the news groups that provide information for the search engine but have been losing ad revenue.

Google is clearly still keen to have some free articles available via search.

Google drives 10 billion clicks to publishers' websites each month.

Some newspapers even asked Congress this year to exempt them from antitrust laws so they could negotiate collectively with the tech giants. "We really recognize the transition to digital for publishers hasn't been easy", said Google's chief business officer Philipp Schindler, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google says that it has been performing research and experiments with the New York Times and Financial Times noting that both of those publications run successful subscription services. "The economics are pretty clear: If publishers aren't successful, we can't be successful".

So far, publishers have been cautiously optimistic.

Google's announcement comes as Facebook is in the midst of a charm offensive with publishers, launching a variety of journalism-related projects and teasing new ways for publishers to introduce subscription options. We have some bad news.

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This year, the Wall Street Journal stopped obeying Google's policy, resulting in a drop-in search ranking but growth in subscriptions. Links that didn't offer a first free click were search demoted. Google said it is now ending that policy.

Gingras also suggested to Search Engine Land that content users subscribe to may be boosted in search results, possibly in a box separating it from organic results.

In other words, Google is, at least for larger sites, ditching the free news model in favour of the subscription game. "That's not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue", stated Gringrass. "Reader-based revenue, aka paid-content, or subscription services, are therefore not just a nice-to-have, but an essential component of a publisher's revenue composition", he said.

When using Google search, users will inevitably be met with a site that asks for login credentials before content is viewable at some point.

It appears as if the change Google is making has been well received by publishers. "This is not some secret disintermediation strategy", he said.

"We're not looking to own the customer", he said. That hasn't been the case, and Google has now made a decision to reorder the balance of its algorithms to not penalise paywalled content.

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