Trying to bypass a publisher's paywall via Google? We have some bad news.
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Google on Monday announced it is ending its controversial "First Click Free" policy, which required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before putting stories behind a paywall. The policy allowed web users who encountered a paywalled story to simply Google the headline and access it for free.
"Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them," Google News Vice President Richard Gingras wrote in a blog post. So, Google is replacing First Click Free with a new Flexible Sampling model, which will allow publishers to decide for themselves "how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers."
Gingras added that the move was driven by the company's own research and publisher feedback. Google is recommending publishers offer users 10 articles per month for free, which many already do. Google has been testing this new model with The New York Times and Financial Times, both of which sell digital subscriptions.
Mark Thompson, CEO of the Times, called the move a "positive development."
"It's extremely clear that advertising alone can no longer pay for the production and distribution of high quality journalism—and at the same time the societal need for sustainable independent journalism has never been greater," FT Chief Commercial Officer Jon Slade said in a statement. "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."
Meanwhile, Google is also making it a lot easier for people to subscribe to publications' websites.
"Registering on a site, creating and remembering multiple passwords, and entering credit card information—these are all hassles we hope to solve," Gingras wrote. "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."
Google is also planning to leverage its machine-learning capabilities to help publishers "recognize potential subscribers and present the right offer to the right audience at the right time," Gingras wrote.