Google's Ending its Controversial 'First Click Free' Policy

By Tom Pritchard on at

Today publishers let out cries of joy, I assume, because Google announced it was ending its controversial 'First Click Free' policy that's been in place for a decade.

The policy was the bane of premium content providers everywhere, since Google demanded content locked behind a paywall should be free to access if the reader accessed directly from Google's search results. And publishers had to go along with it, because it's not like they're going to decide to not be indexed by the world's biggest search engine.

In case you've never heard of FCF before, it was a requirement that publishers offered free access to at least three articles per day via search. Users would be able to read the content in its entirety, but if they clicked anywhere else on the page they'd be asked to subscribe.

Any publisher refusing (like NewsCorp attempted earlier this year) would find their search rankings would tank. In August the Wall Street Journal experiencing a 39 per cent decline in search traffic compared to the previous year, along with an 89 per cent loss from Google News. Google claims this is because its engine doesn't index paywalled content.

Now, though, Google is replacing FCF with something called Flexible Sampling. This will let publishers decide how much content readers can freely access from search results. If they even want to at all. Any publisher opting not to take part will not have their search rankings penalised, though Google suggests publishers offer 10 free articles a month "as a good starting point".

The move away from FCF appears to be an attempt to support media's transition from print to digital. After all it can't earn itself even more money if publishers aren't publishing their content online, with Google chief business officer Philipp Schindler telling the WSJ:

“We really recognise the transition to digital for publishers hasn’t been easy. The economics are pretty clear: If publishers aren’t successful, we can’t be successful.”

This push will also see Google working to make it simpler to subscribe to premium content platforms. That include introducing single-click subscriptions on Android and through other Google services. It'll also be working to offer seamless access to paywalled content across Google Newsstand, Search, and Google News. [WSJ via The Verge]

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