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Google Dropping 'First Click Free' Policy For News Websites

03 October 2017
Google Dropping 'First Click Free' Policy For News Websites

Google is putting an end to a contentious policy that forced publishers to give away free articles so that they could appear on the tech giant's search engine.

"Over the a year ago, we got clear indications that, yes, it was going to be important for publishers to grow subscription revenues", said Richard Gingras, Google's vice president for news. He said that publishers would need to share their audience profiles and Google would then seek out lookalike audiences to maximize subscriber signups.

As part of this new strategy, Google also wants to make it easier for users to subscribe to online publications.

Under the "first click free" policy, readers can read at least one free article on a website before they are prompted to subscribe.

Instead, Google is introducing a "Flexible Sampling" model which will allow subscription-based publishers to decide who many (if any at all) free articles they would like to provide. It will reportedly not demote any news agency in results if they have little or no free content. Robert Thomson the CEO at News Corp. said it fundamentally changes the ecosystem of content by supporting coherent subscription models. "Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them", noted Richard Gingras, VP for News at Google, in a blog post.

Publishers, rejoice: First Click Free is dead. Google has, however, denied changing its algorithm: "The algorithm has never biased free content versus paid content", Gingras added. This has given the publishers rights to use the company's tools to customize features inside Google News for existing subscribers.

The first click free model has been described as toxic by some big publishers. "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", said Jon Slade, FT Chief Commercial Officer.

Google is going to stop punishing news sites that put their articles completely behind a paywall - a major shake-up that scraps a policy that was hated by many in the news business. Google at present is relying on relaxed rules and subscription software that is under construction to stop the Wall Street Journal and other publishers from keeping important content. "We are afraid of Google", Mathias Dopfner, chairman of German publishing giant Axel Springer SE, wrote in a 2014 open letter.

Google is also working on tools for publishers to help drive subscriptions.

Google's CEO Sundar Pichai has made subscriptions a priority and said he was involved very closely in numerous discussions with publishers.