Google Will Let Publishers Decide the Number of Free Clicks

Google is developing new tools for publishers and will end the “first click free” policy to help them boost subscriptions. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Financial Times keep their online articles behind a paywall, but savvy readers get around that by googling a headline or search terms, and then clicking for free access. Google’s new program, “flexible sampling,” allows publishers to determine how many free clicks they want to provide. The “first click free” policy required them to provide three free articles per day.

The New York Times reports that, “Google is also looking at ways to help people subscribe to publications more easily, including using machine learning to help publishers tailor options to a reader’s preferences and behavior.”

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“It’s really all an attempt to try to create a new world — a better world — for journalism,” said Google chief business officer Philipp Schindler, adding that “we have an inherent interest in making publishers successful.”

According to eMarketer, Facebook and Google will “take in more than 60 percent of digital ad spending in the United States this year,” and “have expanded their control over the distribution of news, even as they have come under scrutiny for their role in spreading untrue articles.”

Facebook is “also working on a news product that could help drive subscriptions to news outlets,” a means of assuaging publishers and getting ahead of “rising regulatory and antitrust scrutiny.” With the “first click free” policy, publishers that didn’t participate found that their articles were less likely to “appear prominently in search results.” Bloomberg News reported that after the WSJ broke off from the “first click free” policy, “its traffic from Google dropped nearly 45 percent.”

The new “flexible sampling” policy, expected to debut in the first half of 2018, says Google, allows publishers to let consumers try out a publication and, it hopes, “induce readers to become subscribers.” Google will also “index all of a publisher’s articles, regardless of the limit the publisher chooses.” Google recommends that publishers offer 10 free articles monthly.

Google vice president of news Richard Gingras said that the company wants to “take the friction out of the purchase process” with a combination of its technology and the data it has on users “to make subscribing simpler.” “We’re not suggesting this is a magic bullet for growing subscription revenue,” said Gingras. “We’ll continue to collaborate — this is a journey.”