Google just killed off "first click free" for publishers with paywalls, conceding greater control over subscriptions to publishers

Lynsey Barber
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Google's change is an olive branch to the industry whose revenue it is eating for lunch (Source: Getty)

Google has made a major change that means those reading online news will no longer necessarily get to see articles that are on sites behind paywalls for free.

In a concession to publishers, the "first click free" policy has been ditched as the tech giant seeks to mend ties with an industry which is arguably the biggest loser in Google's gobbling up of advertising spend.

For news to appear in Google search, it had required that publishers show at least three articles each day to readers for free before they hit the paywall and were asked to sign in or subscribe.

Read more: Google and Facebook forecast to win 55 per cent of 2018's digital ad market

Instead, a new "flexible sampling" system will give media companies greater control over how readers can access their content.

"Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them," said Google's vice president for news Richard Gingras.

"Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue. We are also looking at how we can simplify the purchase process and make it easy for Google users to get the full value of their subscriptions across Google’s platforms."

Media companies are in a love hate relationship with tech companies as they rely on them for distributing content, but can often have limited control over it. Facebook for example has increased its focus on distributing video in the timelines of its 2bn users, spurring many media companies to "pivot to video".

The move was welcomed by major publishers with subscription models.

New York Times chief executive Mark Thomson welcomed the "positive development".

"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," he said.

Read more: Ad industry cranks pressure up on "digital duopoly" Google and Facebook

The Financial Times chief commercial officer John Slade said: “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. 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."

Google and Facebook are expected to hoover up the majority of digital advertising spend in the UK for the first time this year as print advertising declines.

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