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Publishers applaud end of Google ‘first click free’

The move by Google to ditch its much criticised “first click free” program in favour of a flexible system that gives publishers more control has been welcomed by major news media companies. The new model of “flexible sampling” was adopted after consultation with News Corporation, the New York Times and the Financial Times in an...

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The move by Google to ditch its much criticised “first click free” program in favour of a flexible system that gives publishers more control has been welcomed by major news media companies.

The new model of “flexible sampling” was adopted after consultation with News Corporation, the New York Times and the Financial Times in an attempt to improve the relationship between Google’s news platform and publishers.

First click free was designed to allow readers to access a minimum of three complete articles for free if redirected through Google Search or News, before being shown paywalls on a news publisher’s site.

The opt-in service was promoted by Google as a way to showcase quality content, whereas publishers viewed the program as detrimental to the pursuit of subscriptions.

Flexible sampling, on the other hand, will give publishers more control over their product. Under the new program, individual publishers will be able to decide how many articles per month Google users may see before the paywall is applied.

“Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them. So as of this week, we are ending the first click free policy,” Google’s vice president, news, Richard Gingras said in a blog post.

The search giant recommends that publishers provide a minimum of 10 articles per month, allowing users a greater chance to “try before they buy”.

The move Google is supported by Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, who described the move as a “positive development”.

“We’re encouraged as well by Google’s willingness to consider other ways of supporting subscription business models and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to craft smart solutions,” he said.

News Corporation CEO Robert Thomson was a major advocate for the repeal of first click free. He not only criticised Google’s subscription mechanisms but also the way the aggregation algorithm ranked publications that did not participate in the program.

Earlier this year, News Corp UK title The Times withdrew from the first click free program, accusing the aggregator of showing the masthead’s articles lower in results. Google blamed its algorithm, which prioritised free content.

This week, Mr Thomson praised the move away from the model as an important step for publishers.

“The felicitous demise of first click free, second click fatal is an important first step in recognising the value of legitimate journalism and provenance on the internet,” he said

“We will monitor this change closely to ensure that consumers can indeed find the work of our journalists online, and will report what we learn, for better or for worse.

“If the change is properly introduced, the impact will be profoundly positive for journalists everywhere and for the cause of informed societies.”

 The start of wider change

Mr Gingras said that the latest changes were just the start of the digital company’s plans to improve its relationship with publishers. The next step would be to improve the way users subscribed to publishers.

“Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue,” he said

The company was currently collaborating with publishers around the world to discover how it could make subscriptions more profitable.

Mr Gingras said: “We are also looking at how we can simplify the purchase process and make it easy for Google users to get the full value of their subscriptions across Google’s platforms. Our goal is to make subscriptions work seamlessly everywhere, for everyone.

“As a first step we’re taking advantage of our existing identity and payment technologies to help people subscribe on a publication’s website with a single click, and then seamlessly access that content anywhere – whether it’s on that publisher site or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News.

“And since news products and subscription models vary widely, we’re collaborating with publishers around the world on how to build a subscription mechanism that can meet the needs of a diverse array of approaches – to the benefit of the news industry and consumers alike,” he said.

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