In a bid to help news publishers woo more readers online, Google is ending its controversial ‘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. While research has shown that people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, the sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off.
“We will end our ‘First Click Free’ policy in favour of a ‘Flexible Sampling’ model where publishers will decide how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers based on their own business strategies,” Richard Gingras, Vice President News, Google, wrote in a blog post on Monday. The “first click free” model has been described as “toxic” by some big publishers.
“The new move is informed by our own research, publisher feedback, and months-long experiments with the New York Times and the Financial Times, both of which operate successful subscription services,” he added. Apart from dropping ‘First Click Free’, Google is also making it easier for users to subscribe to services. Publishers generally recognise 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. “We recommend that monthly, rather than daily, metering allows publishers more flexibility to experiment with the number of free stories to offer people and to target those more likely to subscribe,” Gingras posted. For most publishers, 10 articles per month is a good starting point.
“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,” the post further read. The company is also exploring how Google’s machine learning capabilities can help publishers recognise potential subscribers and present the right offer to the right audience at the right time.
“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. “Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue,” Gingras added.