Google ditching its contentious 'first click free' policy for publishers with paywalls

Google is replacing its first click policy with a sampling-based model.REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Google has announced that its contentious "first click free" policy will be replaced with a new sample-based model designed to bolster digital subscriptions as well as the revenue of media houses.

Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, announced the death of the controversial policy on 2 October in a blog post. The first click free policy required publishers to provide users with three free articles per day in order to gain prominence in Google's search results.

However, over the years, the rule has drawn serious flak from leading organizations, including Axel Springer and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, for affecting their paywall revenues.

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With a new set of measures in place, Google aims to adopt a broader approach, giving publishers a flexible, sampling-based model which would allow them to determine how many – few or no – free articles they want to provide through the search engine. Just like a 'try before you buy' approach, Google contends these samples would grow online subscriptions.

Along with the new sampling method, Google also plans to introduce a simpler way to help readers subscribe news content easily.

"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," the blog noted. The search giant also said it is exploring machine learning capabilities to help publishers reach the right audience just at the right time.

It's worth noting that the latest changes, which come after months-long experiments with the New York Times and the Financial Times, already appear to be winning. Last month, Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, revealed the search giant was considering to terminate first click free, saying the move would support "the creation of coherent viable subscription models" and "fundamentally change the content ecosystem".

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