Google scraps free content rule for publishers

Google to ditch controversial 'first click free' policy

"The felicitous demise of First Click Free (Second Click Fatal) is an important first step in recognising the value of legitimate journalism", News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said in a statement.

This latest move will see the scrapping of First Click Free, a system whereby paywalled publishers could list their content on the search engine provided they gave away three free articles per day. With sites like The Wall Street Journal and others enabling paywalls to view their content, this policy was meant to increase sales of these services to some extent.

He said the number of news outlets with paywalls had reached a critical mass in the past year, to the point that it made sense for Google to start developing tools for them. This is due to the fact that sites that come with a paywall have reached "critical mass" according to Google, and requires the company to develop specific tools for them.

"We will end our "First Click Free" policy in favour of a "Flexible Sampling" model where publishers will decide how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers based on their own business strategies", Richard Gingras, Vice President News, Google, wrote in a blog post on Monday. If it's too little, then fewer users will click on links to that content or share it, which could have an effect on brand discovery and subsequently may affect traffic over time.

In the coming weeks, Google also plans to introduce tools that reduce the friction experienced by users looking to sign up for a subscription.

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However, the aforementioned news outlet's parent company News Corp has complained that the policy introduced by Google's parent company Alphabet Inc. has not paid off as intended, and sales of said subscriptions have suffered, due to what News Corp calls "freeloaders" leeching off what should be paid content.

"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 added that Google was not implementing the changes to generate revenues for itself, but that some financial details had not been worked out.

"Our goal is to make subscriptions work seamlessly everywhere, for everyone", said Gingras.

The WSJ quoted Google's chief business officer Philipp Schindler as saying: "We really recognise the transition to digital for publishers hasn't been easy". Apple released support for subscriptions within its News app past year. "And as we invest heavily to help publishers grow subscription revenue, the feedback I am hearing from them is that this is a positive step forward and a welcome signal that we're all in".

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