Google scraps free content rule for publishers

The moves come amid mounting criticism that online platforms are siphoning off the majority of revenues as more readers turn to digital platforms for news. Reuters file

Google has now pledged to index all new outlets that have subscriptions in its search, allow publishers to determine the number of articles that are free they will provide through its search engine, and will not lower them in the search results if they have little to no free content.

Google is offering publishers help to boost their subscription revenues. Starting this week, Google is implementing a "flexible sampling" model, under which premium publishers - like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times - will be able to choose how many (if any) free articles they surface through search.

Gingras says that they have been collaborating with news publishers to address such problems.

First, Flexible Sampling will replace First Click Free. Google has, however, denied changing its algorithm: "The algorithm has never biased free content versus paid content", Gingras added. "That's not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue", stated Gringrass.

This sampling includes metering, where a site offers a quota of free articles before the paywall appears, as well as "lead-in" where a story's introduction is visible but the rest is hidden.

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He said the number of news outlets with paywalls had reached a critical mass in the past year, to the point that it made sense for Google to start developing tools for them.

The Wall Street Journal pulled out of First Click Free earlier this year because it was unhappy about the amount of content it was having to give away. With more sites using paywalls to generate revenue, it's getting more hard to avoid shelling out a few bucks to get the news from certain popular news outlets-and really, shouldn't we be paying news outlets for their work?-making it a matter of time before your Netflix plan sits next to your Wall Street Journal subscription in your monthly entertainment budget.

As part of its push, Google is working to make subscibing to publishers easier like single-click sign-ups through Android devices and Google services.

Gingras concluded by teasing that Google will more prominently expose content from publications users already subscribe to, which will be given a one-box like treatment above the fold or at the top of the page. "The Financial Times is welcoming of Google's input and actions to help this critical sector of the media industry". Gingras said that the main goal is to transform this purchase into a one-click process. Google labels articles that require subscriptions in Google News.

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