Google disbands 'first click free' policy as it aims to help grow online media subscriptions

Paywall of the New York Times / Sociable

Google is set to disband its ‘first click free’ policy which forces media companies to offer a minimum of three free-to-view pieces of content each day, introduced in the last decade as a result of the rise in paywalls.

The search giant will instead introduce ‘a flexible sampling model’ where media companies will select the number of articles that are viewable to readers themselves without being penalized when it came to search results.

In a blog post, Richard Gringrass, vice president of news for Google, explained that the change might generate more online subscriptions for media businesses.

“While research has shown that people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, the sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That’s not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue,” stated Gringrass.

He also revealed that alongside dropping the ‘first click free’ policy, Google would be introducing a new suite of products and services to help publishers find new audiences and drive subscriptions while also simplifying the purchase process as well.

The blog also featured a response by an advisor to The New York Times' chief executive Mark Thompson – Kinsey Wilson, who said that the decision to allow media companies to decide the sample size of their content was "a positive development".

Wilson added:"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."

Another welcoming comment from The Financial Times' chief commercial officer, Jon Slade, was also included.

“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. 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,” he said.

“The Financial Times is welcoming of Google's input and actions to help this critical sector of the media industry, and we've worked very closely with Google to aid understanding of the needs that publishers have and how Google can help. That mutual understanding includes the ability to set controls over the amount of free content given to readers, a level playing field for content discovery, optimised promotion and payment processes. It is important that we now build and accelerate on the discussions and actions to date,” the comment continued.

The blog also revealed that the use of machine learning within Google was being used to help publishers to recognize when to target potential subscribers with more relevant offers.

Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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