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Google relaxes punishment for news websites that don’t abide by its ‘first click free’ policy

Image credit: reuters

Google is relaxing its ‘first click free’ (FCF) policy for websites that rely on user subscriptions to access their content.

FCF allows users to access content normally hidden behind a paywall by allowing them three free articles a day. It was an attempt by Google to prevent non-subscribers from being stifled by paywalls when they clicked on news articles from searches.

The search giant also believed that the policy could lead to an increase in subscriptions once users got a taste of the content, but would penalise sites that refused to endorse the policy in their search results.

Some media giants, such as News Corp, have complained that FCF was causing their sales to suffer.

Apart from a few publications, online subscriptions haven’t taken off as intended. News Corp’s Wall Street Journal stopped abiding by Google’s policy, corresponding to a drop in search rankings but an increase in subscriptions.

“Over the past year, we have worked with publishers to investigate the effects of FCF on user satisfaction and on the sustainability of the publishing ecosystem,” Google said in a blog post. 

“We found that while FCF is a reasonable sampling model, publishers are in a better position to determine what specific sampling strategy works best for them.”

Richard Gingras, Google's vice president for news, said the number of news outlets with paywalls had reached a critical mass in the last year, to the point that it made sense for the company to start developing tools for them.

Google is now counting on the relaxed rules and subscription software that is under development to stop the Wall Street Journal and other publishers from holding back valuable content.

From here on in, publishers will be able to choose how many free articles they want to offer to Google searchers - if any.

Google also plans to launch free software in the coming months for publishers that enables users to pay for content with credit card information that they’ve previously supplied to the search giant.

The goal is to facilitate fast purchases that could take as little as a single click, Gingras said. Customers’ names and emails would be shared with the publishers.

A separate tool would give publishers data on how to maximize sign ups with personalized offers. Gingras said Google hasn’t determined whether it may charge a fee to recoup costs of that program.

“Google search is valuable because there’s a rich ecosystem out there,” Gingras said. “To the extent the web is healthy, that’s very good for our core business. Our objective is not for this to be a new line of business.”

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