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October 3, 2017

Google Axes Free Article Access Rule for News Publishers

Google is getting rid of its (FCF) policy penalizing news publishers that choose to hide their articles behind a paywall.

The search engine firm’s FCF rule required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before asking readers to pay a subscription fee. Those that did not do so ended up losing traffic as part of Google’s penalty.

Google is replacing First Click Free with Flexible Sampling, which will enable publishers to decide how many articles to offer for free, if any. Although Google is urging publishers to offer at least some free content, it will no longer penalize publishers like The Wall Street Journal, that opt to keep all of their articles behind a paywall.

“Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them,” Google vice-president of news Richard Gingras wrote in a blog post that explained the policy change. “Publishers generally recognize that giving people access to some free content is the way to persuade people to buy their product. The typical approach to sampling is a model called metering, which lets people see a pre-determined number of free stories before a paywall kicks in.”

Google is recommending news sites use monthly, rather than daily, metering. This, the company said, gives publishers more flexibility to experiment with the number of free stories to offer readers and to target those who are most likely to subscribe. On average, 10 free articles a month works well, Google said.

The search engine firm is also hoping to simplify the subscription process which can be a hassle many people simply do not want to deal with.

“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,” Gingras said. “And since news products and subscription models vary widely, we’re collaborating with publishers around the world on how to build a subscription mechanism that can meet the needs of a diverse array of approaches—to the benefit of the news industry and consumers alike.”

Google is also looking for way to use its machine learning capabilities to help publishers not only identify possible subscribers but present the right offer to people when they are most likely to subscribe.


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.