Internet Tech News

Google Gives Up the Fight Against Paywalls

Dave Parrack 02-10-2017

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 Google Search Buries Bad News Google is making some serious changes to Search. The main aim is to bury the bad results from bogus sources, promoting accurate results from authoritative sources. Which sounds fantastic, if it's possible. Read More .

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 Why the Fight Back Against Ad-Blockers Should Matter to You Now Ad-blocking has changed our browsing experience. The fightback by web publishers is changing it further. But if they defeat ad-blocking, what does it mean for the future of our Internet experience? Read More , 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

Related topics: Google, Google Search.

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  1. Mike F
    October 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    The more things cost and the harder it is for people to get to it, the more people will realize they really don't need it. I read free online news because it's convenient. But we already pay for a newspaper subscription, and we get news for free on TV. Online news is easy to drop.

  2. Richard Chan
    October 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    I already avoid paywalls by using Google personal blocklist for Chrome. I find if the content is worthwhile, there usually a collection of past content that is available for purchase. I will purchase the collection if all advertising has been removed.