Google said Monday it is ending its so-called “first click free” policy. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Google said Monday it is ending its so-called “first click free” policy. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Google drops “first click free,” loathed by many publishers

Publishers can now to choose how many, if any, free articles they offer before charging a fee.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Google will try to help newspapers and other publishers boost subscriptions by ending a decade-old policy that required them to provide a limited amount of free content before people were asked to pay for it.

The “first click free” policy at the world’s biggest search engine was loathed by publishers because while the stories, videos and images appearing on Google have been free for its users, it is expensive to produce.

Publishers had been required to provide at least three free items under the search engine’s previous policy.

Publishers will now be allowed to decide how many, if any, free articles they want to offer readers before charging a fee, Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google Inc., wrote Monday in a company blog post.

For people who intentionally sought to skirt paywalls, the policy allowed readers to type a headline into Google and get free access to a story without having it count against a monthly free article limit, said Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson.

In months of testing with Google, reducing those free clicks from three to zero “generally improved” conversion to subscriptions, Wilson said. But he added the Times continues to assess whether to actually reduce the number of free clicks now that it can. He said it was “not simply a mechanical decision” because the Times’ mission was in part to make sure its news was available to a wide audience and to set the news agenda.

Among the changes announced by Google:

• Click for free is over. Publishers decide what and if they want to provide for free.

• Google will produce a suite of products and services aimed at broadening the audience for publishers in an attempt to drive subscriptions and revenue.

• Streamline payment methods so that readers can tailor their own experience. That would include access to a publication’s digital content with one click. That content could then be accessed anywhere — whether it’s on a publisher’s website or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News.

Newspapers and magazines have shut down in droves or they have been force to shrink operations drastically worldwide because of the influx of stories, images and video jettisoned across the interment, largely at no charge. Technological changes have fractured the advertising market and constrained revenues for almost all established media.

Much of the content, created and paid for by media companies, travels through Google’s Chrome, which captured nearly 60 percent of all searches in September, according to NetMarketShare.

The change in Google policy was hailed immediately by major media companies.

“If the change is properly introduced, the impact will be profoundly positive for journalists everywhere and for the cause of informed societies,” News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said in a prepared statement. “Fake news has prospered on digital platforms which have commodified content and thus enabled bad actors to game the system for commercial or political gain.”

Shares of companies like New York Times Co., News Corp. E.W. Scripps and Tronc Inc., all rose when the market opened Monday.

The relationship between Google and publishers is complex. With readers opening tablets and phones rather than picking up a newspaper from the stoop or lawn, Google has vexed publishers as it gobbles up advertising dollars for content produced by those publishers.

But they need powerful search engines to spread their content and gain readers as they transition to digital.

A Pew Research Center analysis of data from AAM shows that total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers — both print and digital — fell 8 percent in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines.

But digital subscriptions are rising rapidly for major established newspapers.

In July, news outlets sought permission from Congress for the right to negotiate jointly with Google and Facebook, given the duo’s dominance in online advertising and online news traffic. The News Media Alliance, which represents, nearly 2,000 news organizations, say that because Google and Facebook are so dominant, news publishers are forced to “surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized.”

Publishers want stronger protections for intellectual property, support for subscription models and a bigger share of the online advertising market. Google and Facebook combined will account for 60 percent of the US digital advertising market this year, according to the research firm eMarketer.

Google decided to offer more flexibility to publishers based on additional research, feedback from publishers, and extended experiments with The New York Times and Financial Times, Gingras said.

Google says it’s working with publishers to streamline whatever payment form they would like to pursue so that it’s easier for users to decide what they wish to pay for. The goal is to help publishers identify possible subscribers and build a better subscription model, Google said.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Think Tank Cowork in Everett, Washington on July 19, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The first co-working space opens in downtown Everett

Think Tank Cowork’s owner hopes the facility will inspire other business owners to call Everett home.

New LGI Homes on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Sultan, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The real estate market took an abrupt turn this spring

Mortgage rates are up, but home inspections, seller concessions are back on the table for buyers.

The Lab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and inventors located at 404 N. Olympic Ave. (Photo credit: TheLab@Arlington)
New Arlington business incubator opens

TheLab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, inventors and business owners.

Patrons view the 787 exhibition Thursday morning at the Boeing Future of Flight Musuem at Paine Field on October 8, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Paine Field was county’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Not now

Snohomish County officials hope festivals and outdoor activities will fill Paine Field tourist gap.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood Chamber of Commerce ‘can’t keep the doors open’

The chamber is set to shut down at the end of the month due to financial challenges.

OnTrac Logistics has leased a building now under construction at Bay Wood Business Park on Everett's waterfront. The shipping company will open a facility there later this year that will employ 400 people. (Artist Rendering/Broderick Group.)
New Everett shipping facility to generate 400 jobs

OnTrac Logistics has leased a new building on the 12½-acre Baywood Business Park on Everett’s waterfront.

Maria Rios, a ferry worker of 13 years, helps Frank and Fran Butler, both of Washington, D.C., check out as the couple purchases food on Thursday, July 21, 2022, aboard the MV Suquamish ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton, Washington. Rios said food service returned to the Suquamish about three weeks prior. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drink up! Happy hour on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry is back

More galleys are reopening as pandemic restrictions scale back. Get out of your car for concessions just like at the ballpark.

The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett. (Janice Podsada / The Herald) 20220419
Flying Heritage Museum to reopen with new owner at Paine Field

Walmart heir Steuart Walton bought the historic aircraft and artifacts. The museum is set to reopen within the year.

Renee's Contemporary Clothing store at 2820 Colby Ave. on July 11, 2022. The iconic downtown Everett store is closing in August after 29 years in business. (Janice Podsada/The Herald)
Renee’s, another iconic downtown Everett store, is closing

After 29 years in business, the longstanding clothing shop will shutter. In-person sales slowed when stores reopened.

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Boeing is reporting a money-losing quarter as both its civilian-airplane division and the defense business are struggling. Boeing said Wednesday, April 27, 2022,  that it lost $1.24 billion in the first quarter and took large write-downs for several programs.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Boeing sees best month for aircraft deliveries since 2019

The company delivered 51 passenger and cargo planes in June, its best month for deliveries in recent years.

The Alderwood Towne Center, a 105,000 square-foot strip mall, is located at 3105-3225 Alderwood Mall Blvd. The mall, which has been sold, is home to 20 businesses, including anchor tenants Marshalls and Michaels. Photo Credit: CBRE Group.
Lynnwood strip mall near Link Light Rail Station sold

Alderwood Towne Center, home to 20 businesses, could eventually be redeveloped to take advantage of light rail.

James Berntson shows how his farm uses a trellis system to control tomato plants on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Radicle Roots Farm in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Backyard business: Snohomish farm thrives on less than one acre.

James Berntson grew Radicle Roots Farm using smart crop planning and organic practices.