Google Ends ‘First Click Free’ Policy Loathed By Many Publishers

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...

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