Google to ditch controversial ‘first click free’ policy
Google is to abandon its controversial policy of forcing news providers to offer free articles in order to appear on its search engine as part of a collection of measures designed to support the growth of digital subscriptions.
The US company will replace its so-called “first click free” policy, which requires publishers to offer three free articles a day before readers come across a pay wall.
Instead Google will offer a flexible sampling model that allows news organisations to decide how many, if any, articles it offers for free.
The “first click free” model has been described as “toxic” by publishers such as Axel Springer and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, which publishes the Times and the Sun, revealed at a conference last month that Google was considering getting rid of “first click free”, adding that it would “fundamentally change the content ecosystem”.
He said: “If you don’t sign up for ‘first click free’, you virtually disappear from a search. Given the power of that Google platform, that is disadvantaging premium content of great provenance.”
Google is making the move after feedback from publishers and readers and after tests with the New York Times and the Financial Times. It is also a recognition of the growth of subscription services and the fact a “one size fits all” approach was not appropriate.
In a blog, Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, said: “Journalism provides accurate and timely information when it matters most, shaping our understanding of important issues and pushing us to learn more in search of the truth. People come to Google looking for high-quality content, and our job is to help them find it. However, sometimes that content is behind a paywall.
“While research has shown that people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, the sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That’s not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue.
“To address these problems we’ve been talking to news publishers about how to support their subscription businesses.”
As well as dropping “first click free”, Google will make it easier for users to subscribe to services. For example, people will be able to subscribe to news providers with one click through Google’s existing payment technology.
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