Google has announced a significant change in how it handles digital publications that show stories and news items on Google Search results and on Google News. Google had a policy in place in the past called First Click Free that required websites listed in Google News or in Google's search results to offer a minimum of three free articles per day to readers. After those three free stories daily were consumed by the reader, they could be shown a paywall to try and convert the reader to a subscriber.
Online news fans aren't known to be the sort who pay for news that is perceived as being a free service. Google is changing its stance, which could mean that news from some publications via Google News and search results might be unreadable without having to subscribe. Google's new policy is called Flexible Sampling.
Google writes, "Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them. So as of this week, we are ending the First Click Free policy, which required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before people were shown a paywall."
Under the Flexible Sampling model the publisher will get to choose how many, if any, articles are viewable without having to subscribe. Google says that it has been performing research and experiments with the New York Times and Financial Times noting that both of those publications run successful subscription services.
"Google's decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is a positive development,” said Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson. "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."
As Google changes its free stories policy, it is also announcing that in the future it will roll out ways to help publications convert readers to subscribers. Google plans to use its payment technology to help readers subscribe with a single click. Google also wants to use machine learning tech to help the publisher determine which visitors are most likely to subscribe.
Google is giving some recommendations to publishers planning to change how they offer free content. It notes that monthly rather than daily limits work better and that for most publishers 10 free articles monthly is a good starting point. That could be all the light reader needs in an entire month, but heavy news consumers will end up being unable to read without subscribing under the new model.