Google will no longer force publishers using paywalls to offer free content. Instead, publishers using paywalls to fund themselves will enjoy equality with other publishers. Google is also working towards helping those publishers “reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue”.
Paywalls are annoying. You’ll see a headline you want to click on, but because the story is hidden behind a paywall you have to find another source. This can be very frustrating, especially when you hit your limit of free content. And now that free content may be disappearing. Thanks, Google.
From First Click Free to Flexible Sampling
Google is ditching First Click Free, its decade-old program which forced publishers using paywalls to play nicely. First Click Free meant that these publishers had to offer a number of stories for free every day in order to rank higher in search results. Those who didn’t comply could be buried by Google.
First Click Free is being replaced by Flexible Sampling. This drops the requirement for publishers to offer free content, and they can now decide for themselves “how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers”. Google obviously hopes most publishers will continue to offer some content for free, but it might drop from three articles every day to 10 every month.
Google is also keen to become part of the ecosystem allowing publishers to gain subscribers. That starts with helping people subscribe with a single click, and expands by way of Google employing its machine learning capabilities to “help publishers recognize potential subscribers”.
Publishers With Paywalls React Positively
It should come as no surprise to learn that the reaction from those publications hiding their online content behind paywalls have been positive. After all, until now those publications have been forced to play by Google’s rules. Now, Google is changing the rules, and giving them the power.
Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, said:
“Google’s decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is 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.”
Jon Slade, FT Chief Commercial Officer, said:
“It’s extremely clear that advertising alone can no longer pay for the production and distribution of high quality journalism […] 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.”
Google Is Playing the Long Game
This change makes sense for Google and the publishers it’s trying to appease. Those publishers gain equal billing with websites that don’t employ paywalls. And Google gets to bolster its relationships with those publishers. With ad revenues declining, it looks like Google is playing the long game here.
Do you subscribe to any online publications? If so, what ones? If not, why not? What do you think of the increasing use of paywalls? Do you avoid the websites which employ them? Or do you just take advantage of the free content? Please let us know in the comments below.
Image Credit: Mark Bonica via Flickr