Google Updates Policy on News Pay Walls. ‘First Click Free’ to End.

from NYTs

Publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The New York Times have long asked readers to pay for access to online articles. But many reading this article online are probably familiar with an easy workaround: Plug a search term or headline into Google, and voilà! Free access to articles normally locked behind pay walls.

That digital sleight of hand is great for inquisitive readers, but bad for the publishers that are increasingly dependent on subscription dollars for survival.

So now, in an acknowledgment of this industrywide strategy shift, Google is working on new tools that could help news organizations bolster their subscription businesses. The tools are part of a broader effort to preserve the kind of journalism that Google’s dominance, and that of other web giants like Facebook, has threatened.

Google’s plans include doing away with the “first click free” policy, which requires subscription-based news outlets to offer three free articles a day through its search and news features, allowing users to skirt pay walls. A new program, which Google plans to start this week and is calling “flexible sampling,” will allow those publishers to determine how many free clicks to give Google’s users.

Google is also looking at ways to help people subscribe to publications more easily, including using machine learning to help publishers tailor options to a reader’s preferences and behavior.

More here.

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11 Responses to Google Updates Policy on News Pay Walls. ‘First Click Free’ to End.

  1. Jeffrey Khoudary October 20, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    It is no secret that Google overwhelmingly dominates the internet, and they have tremendous control over where internet traffic is sent. A web analytics company called Stat Counter estimates that 80% of all searches on the on the internet go through Google’s search engines. Controlling that much of the data means any changes that Google makes to their algorithm will have a butterfly effect on every other website on the internet. Years ago, Google implemented a policy where all subscription services needed to offer the first three articles for free and “If publishers did not participate, Google did not fully index their articles, which made it less likely that the articles would appear prominently in search results.” The Wall Street Journal decided not to participate, and their traffic dropped nearly 45%.

    I think it is entirely within their rights to implement these changes, but it is scary that they have so much power to control the sites that people visit. While it isn’t directly stated in the article, it makes me think of the potential they have to censor the media inadvertently. YouTube has been in hot water for their algorithm that decides if a video is too inappropriate to monetize. The algorithm makes mistakes and isn’t perfect, and some videos are demonetized that don’t deserve it. This is understandable because over 300 hours of content gets uploaded per second, but this does hurt the wallet of the creators, and if the creators don’t get paid they won’t continue to make videos. One channel that documented war crimes were banned entirely from the site until public outcry got them back on the site. Censorship over the internet is a big deal because of the sheer amount of people that use it. Even if .01% of creators are blocked for sharing their opinions and ideas, it is a big deal because that adds up to hundreds of millions of creators.

  2. Rebecca Hu October 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    This article gives an insight on the current situation of news media. I think with the arrival of technology and everything can be accessed with a click, the old paper and news are in danger. Using myself for an example, I do not subscribe to newspaper I just get all of my information through social media or a search on Google. I believe I am not the only one who is doing it, Google is the ultimate tool for research. I can understand the disappointment with news agency. In order to make your article visible, the agency have to grant index access to Google. Google having access to present this information to the reader through a series of filtration, it allows more people to have access to the information but it does not indicate an increase in subscription.
    We all know that in order for news agency to make profit, it is through advertisement. The way to secure advertisement is through customer subscription. Which indicates that there is a certain number of people following this news, translates into the advertisement will reach to that number of people. Google allowing people to gain access to these articles through search there is no need for subscription. “Digital sleight of hand is great for inquisitive readers, but bad for the publishers that are increasingly dependent on subscription dollars for survival.” Not good for the news industry.
    Google updating its policy and introducing the “first click free” policy will improve the loss of subscription. It is using the model in the supermarket try some of this sample before you have to purchase the product. Which is an interesting method they are implementing here, the agency can decide how many articles each viewer have access for free. I think it is the correct way to approach this problem. While still giving article information to Google, it will allow people to still have the same level access of information. At certain point when the consumer realizes that certain website constantly provides good content it will lead to subscription.
    I think this is a win win solution. Definably the company is losing something by providing certain amount of information free, still it will be widening the chance for people to actually subscribe. The company have the right to decide how many articles they would like to present it as sample, for free. Internet is taking over daily life, we are connected but it seems like we are more narrow minded. When information can be accessed so fast and free it seems like we don’t appreciate all those efforts in delivering the information. There are constant substitution for certain articles. It also indicates how influential company such as Google and Facebook can be. We rely on these two giants to have access to information, if they choose not to disclose certain information then we might never get a chance to see it.
    In a way technology is invading our daily lives. When we rely too much on it, we cannot decide what is good or what is bad. We quote from online sources through Google, but how valid are those information? Today I can go on the internet publish something and the information can be completely fake, some people will still believe it. It is a problem, we are being fed with information from Google or Facebook we are no thinking about the facts and questioning the sources. It is good to see Google updating the policy to ensure that news agency can have an increase in subscription. Also I would like to see Google can filter through fake websites or not reliable websites that wants to attack your computer rather than provide you with valuable information.

  3. KM October 21, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    As times have changed and digital access has become more readily available to the common masses, publications have had to adapt to the changing times as well. As more users are accessing content online we have seen a shift from the focus on print publications to digital publications, even with outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and your local newspaper. Sydney Ember’s article ”Google Updates Policy on News Pay Walls. ‘First Click Free’ to End.”, available on The New York Times website highlights Google’s “first click free” policy and the changes the company is making to help publishers bolster their subscription rates. However, it is the issues that lie beneath the surface that demand attention.

    While it appears in the article that Google is making these changes from a somewhat altruistic standpoint that is not entirely the case. There is a codependent relationship that exists between Google and the publishers as highlighted by Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler’s comment that “we have an inherent interest in making publishers successful.” Therefore, Google is not necessarily making these changes because it is better for the publishers, they are doing do because it is better for the publishers and Google. Google is creating an opportunity for the publishers to continue to grow and survive in the digital realm by changing their policies to help aid publishers in securing more subscription services. By doing so, Google also faces the potential to increase their take in the advertising dollars at stake, as noted by Ember’s article. It is strictly a smart business decision that is thinly veiled in a selfless type approach. I do feel that it is right for Google to change their policies to prevent users from bypassing pay walls; however I think we need to recognize the true reasons for Google doing so.

    Behind the story of Google’s changing policy lies another story of the influence and power of Google itself. I think that Jeffrey Khoudary raises an important point in his comment above when he refers to how “it is scary that they (Google) have so much power to control the sites that people visit.” This power has been used to intimidate publications to participate in their policies because, as Ember’s article mentions and Jeffrey Khoudary also refers to, “Google would not fully index their (publishers) articles” if they did not participate, causing sites to lose traffic and business. Here, we have a business that is able to exert its power to vastly manipulate other businesses, influence what is available to the public, and alter the digital landscape. When will it be the right time for someone to step in and take measure of the impact that Google has and attempt to limit that impact? When does a big company become too big? Now might be the time for the U.S. to explore antitrust actions against companies like Google in order to temper their power as is mentioned in Adam Lashinsky’s article on titled “Should We Use Antitrust Law Against Google or Facebook?” Google is already facing antitrust issues in the EU, as the EU levied a €2.4 billion fine against Google. (Toor) While this case is related to manipulating search engine results, it speaks to the level of influence that Google has and can assert. (Toor) The frightening aspect of Google’s power is that it reaches internationally and Google has the ability to influence an enormous number of businesses and users around the world because of the wide reach of the internet.

    While my comment goes beyond the article and reflects a more pressing issue that I felt related to the topic I do feel that Google has every right to alter their policies to limit users’ abilities to avoid pay walls. While I feel that Google has internal motivations in making the policy changes, it does have the potential to provide additional opportunities to publishers to enhance their businesses. I do feel that the strength and dominance of companies such as Google need not be left unchecked. It is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, as the implications can be far reaching and long-lasting.

    Additional Sources:
    Lashinsky, Adam

    Toor, Amar

  4. Ryan McFadden October 21, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

    This is an interesting and welcome change that Google is introducing. Under the “First Click Free” program, Google was essentially telling media companies how to run their businesses. By giving those who participated in the program preferential treatment in the ordering of search results, and listing those who didn’t participate worse ordering, they are almost strong-arming companies to participate in the program. As of April 2017, over 77% of all internet searches worldwide, went through Google nearly 4,464,000,000 searches per day. With that kind of traffic it is hard for a company to turn Google down. As the Wall Street Journal saw, turning down the Google “First Click Free” program can be detrimental to the traffic to their site. They lost 45% of the traffic from Google that they were seeing before they walked away from the Google program.

    Under the “flexible sampling” program, it seems that Google will help media companies be able to manage their online business the way they deem fit, while still protecting their own needs. Under the old program it forced companies to all give the same number of free visits, regardless of content or the size of the company. This new program will give companies the flexibility to let viewers see as much content as the company deems fit for their business model. Some companies only rely on subscriptions for a small portion of their income, and rely more heavily on the advertising on their site. These companies will be allowed to let viewers see more of their pages for free, while still earning money. While companies that rely on subscriptions more will still have the opportunity to be ordered at the top of searches, while only allowing a few or only one free view per day.

    This program will help media companies manage their transition into the future. This is especially true for companies newspaper companies such as the New York Times. Newspaper companies prior to the internet were where a large portion of the population got their daily news. Once the internet grew into what it is today, newspaper sales have plummeted. As of 2016, only 20% of Americans got their news from newspapers, these are mostly older people. Only 5% of Americans aged 18-29 get their news from newspapers, while 48% aged 65+ get their news from newspapers. While nearly 50% of Americans aged 18-49 get their news from the internet and only 20% aged 65+. As time goes on, less physical newspapers will be sold, causing newspaper companies to change their model even more than they already have. The old “First Click Free” program was a one size fits all model that did not work for all companies, because it was inflexible and was implemented across all news media companies. While the “flexible sampling” program from Google, will let companies choose their model, and change their model as their business changes.

  5. Valerie Dorsett October 26, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    Today with the click of a button you can find the answer to anything in seconds. The new digital age has made it easier to search up anything that people may be interested in. This is a positive thing for many people who seek to find answers online right away. However, this has had a negative effect on my newspaper companies. Since everyone can get their news online which is quicker and more simple no one goes out and reads an actual newspaper. In order to compete in this new type of society many newspaper companies have been creating newspapers that post their articles online. This still helps with publication but still offers complications.
    Companies like the New York Times still need to make a profit with their online articles. In order to do so, they have created online subscriptions so that way people can still get their news easy but with a cost to keep them alive in this society. You would think that this would save them. However, Google has had a program where if one searched the headline or just a single term related to the article free access would be granted to these users. This was great for students but terrible for business. This article states how Google is now aware of this problem and is trying to help these businesses gain subscriptions.
    What is Google’s plan? According to the article, instead of having a “first click free” policy which allows users to view articles online for free only three times a day. Now Google is going away with this deal. They call it “flexible sampling” which means that companies like the New York Times, will have the option to choose have many free clicks they want to grant Google users. This will make journalists become more successful and help them continue business. This program will also make subscribing to these newspaper companies easier. Facebook is also trying to help out these news publishers. They recommended offering ten free articles a month instead of having three articles daily. Before “flexible sampling” became an option, the Wall Street Journal decided that they would exit from Googles original “first click free” program. There visits from Google decreased by 45 percent. This may help the Wall Street Journal stay open with their subscribers, but it may have also been bad thing idea because without Google users, the website does not get enough publicity. Without advertisements, it may be hard to gain more subscriptions to a newspaper company online.
    This should be able to help businesses be successful. Personally, these websites are good for information when it comes to doing some schoolwork, however, I would never subscribe to them. Some people would in order to keep getting their daily news. Of course, some articles will still be free, but this is best so that way businesses can prosper. Without their monthly subscriptions, these newspaper websites would no longer exist. Overall, even though this new decision does not necessarily benefit users, it still allows Google users to view some articles just not as often as others and will keep businesses financially safe. If Facebook follows through with the same type of plan businesses would be very happy. Many people get their news off of Facebook so whether Facebook users would be upset about this change or not may be the reason why they have not come forward yet.

  6. Shemar Givens October 31, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    The internet operates and makes drastic changes each and every day. With the click of a button you’re opened to new page of influential information formulated to inform us on whatever it is we need insight on. The new digital age has made the hassle much easier being that sometimes we’re neglected from useful information because sites are now putting a price on it. It’s an easier way for people to find what they need in a timely fashion. The negative effect comes into play with the companies who they are issuing the “First Click Free” option. This is a result of loss in revenue. Implementing payments for subscriptions is another way to generate more money. Google is aware of the problem that it’s causing and are willing to help these different companies to find more subscriptions.

    Instead of just allowing people to free click three times a day, google are planning to allow companies to choose how many free clicks are given out. This will help companies stay in business keep some type of income flowing in.

  7. Jimmy Bedoya November 3, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

    The concept of technology without a doubt has revolutionized the world. From evolving how humans communicate to how they travel and just in general how they live, there is no doubt that technology plays an important role in the world today. However, as great at technology might seem, many believe that the subject faces a lot of controversy for its ability to produce cons as well as pros. Some believe that this revolutionary concept has changed the world for the better, solving problems of matter, energy, and time, benefiting everyone’s lifestyle. Others argue that technology has ruined their lives, robbing them of their jobs, and overall life aspirations. Thus, today many companies who rely on detrimental technological advancements, though praised highly, are receiving a lot of backfire from the public as well as many freelancers, especially writers. Google stands as one of the many companies who face a lot of controversies. Though Google has flourished, creating one of the most used search engines, a self-driving car, buying YouTube, etc, Google has been evidentially making it harder for many to make a living. Publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The New York Times are some of the many companies threatened by Google’s wonderful and beneficial features of their search engine.

    For a while, these publications have asked their users to make payments in order to access important articles online. However, with the amount of money the average individual spends, there is no question that everyone is trying to optimize his or her savings. Therefore, in an effort to combat these paywalls, users will search up the article that they require through Google’s search engine. Google then gives them millions of different selections to choose from, providing that article free of cost. This “digital sleight of hand is great for inquisitive readers but bad for the publishers”. Google in an effort to minimize these workarounds has begun working on new tools to help these news organizations boost their subscriptions. These tools are a part of a broader method to save the kind of business that Google dominates and threatens. Their plan consists of getting eliminating their “first click free” policy, which has publication companies offer three free articles a day. Reason being that these three free articles might be enough to give the user exactly what he or she needs, and will potentially damage the publications chances of acquiring a new subscription. Thus, Google offers a strategy where publications choose how many free clicks each individual receives. Google is also developing a plan in which they could help drive news subscriptions to news outlets. In my opinion, I believe it is convenient that Google is choosing to help these Publication companies but not necessary. Google is technically not doing anything illegal and is benefiting by taking more than 60% in digital ad spending. Thus, they are not required to help these publication companies out. However, they see the necessity of the subscriptions and realize that they are in essence stealing revenue and jobs for many people. Google is already doing enough by eliminating some of their features and is now lending an extra hand by helping these companies formulate strategies to optimize their subscriptions.

  8. Li Zonghao November 3, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    The name of the game is money. In the capitalistic world that we live in, many of our actions are influenced by the biggest incentive of all: money. Corporations that exist to maximize profits are an extension of this. Every year, corporations have an obligation to report earnings and the expectation is that they grow their earnings year after year. In light of this, Google’s new policy to end “first click free” policy in attempt to force more users to subscribe to news services such as Wall Street Journal and New York Times is normal for a business.
    However, what we also have to consider is Google’s place in the industry. With billions of people using its web services, Google and the actions that it takes affect those billions of users. With the new policy in place to drive users to subscribe, Google is not only taking a business-savvy action, but is also making a statement of its vision of what the industry should be like. As a dominant player in the internet industry, its actions will possibly be followed by other competitors like Firefox similar to how more and more phone companies are getting rid of the 3.5 mm headphone jack in response to Apple getting rid of the iconic feature for its iPhone 7.
    In other words, we can look to Google’s actions and policies as the beginnings of a trend. We can look at Google’s support and protection of subscription services as support for legitimate services; as Google limits users’ ability to skirt paywalls, they will have to subscribe if they want to enjoy services.
    In a way, this is related to piracy as users cleverly share illegal content in a peer-to-peer manner. Just as users may type a search term to access articles that are normally unlocked through subscription, there are illegal ways to obtain games, music, movies, tv shows, and much more. Although skirting paywalls do not have the same legal repercussions, we can relate Google’s focus on legitimate services to legitimate ways to obtain copyrighted material. With the size of the internet, it is hard to manage copyrighted material, and although there are government attempts to take down such illegal content through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), it is simply not enough to stop all illegal content on the internet. However, if governments and other entities that are able to regulate such material like Google introduce new policies, there may be more sales through legitimate means. Piratebay’s trouble with the European Court of Justice is another example of how rampant piracy is dampened, and Google’s new policy to drive legitimate subscriptions may be an inkling for the industry to join hands with either the government or amongst themselves to protect their own rights as owners of intellectual property.
    In conclusion, we may see a shift for companies and suppliers to better protect their rights. While this may be justifiable on the company’s’ side, we also need to tread carefully. As users grow reliant on Google and other companies, we are giving them power. Although companies depend on users for revenue, we always need to be careful of inelastic demand or at least increasing inelastic demand. Because at that point only governments can do anything about it such as through anti-trust laws, and there is always the issue of conflict of interest in policy making with politicians and their donations. As consumers and users, we always have to keep a vigilant eye to prevent abuse.

  9. Arielle Fortes November 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm #

    As humans we love information. We like to know who, what, when, where’s and why’s of the situation. In the beginning, people had to write everything by hand, and it took so long to write. Then movable type was invented and it was easier for people to gain information. They no longer had to write everything by hand could make writing easier and therefore spread news faster. With movable type information was spread faster so now more people could read. When more people could read then they wanted something to read and the demand for newspaper read. The ordinary people could get news from different articles, whether it be political, social, or sports. There would also be slightly entertaining things whether it be jokes, cartoons, or crossword puzzles. Nowadays, less people going for physical newspaper because they can get something else if they need to.
    There are many well-known newspapers like the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles. However, in today’s world it is very digital. Everything it is now very online or on the internet. Less people are willing to pay for the physical newspapers like they used to. In addition, most people are not willing to pay for the online subscriptions either, since it is easier for people to simply use Google. What the easy thing for them to do is to simply plug something into Google that they are interested in and then continue into page by clicking on the article that they wanted. Everyone lovers this except for the ones who publish the newspapers. They want to make sure that there is some money flowing into the paper. If people can simply get articles for free then no one would be willing to pay for subscriptions. Google had decided to do something about this problem. They says that they are willing to do away with the free one click policy. This policy makes all the newspaper who want people to subscribe to their articles and paper, offer at least three free articles a day. So instead of this Google is trying something called ‘flexible sampling’ that would allow publishers to control how many articles that they would want to allow people to use for free. I think that this idea is interesting as it will help the publishers make some more money but it still might not turn people to subscription as they may find other ways around it. Google is not the only one harming the publication process but there is also Facebook. With Facebook and Google together, they have taken up around 60% of the digital add business which shows how profitable they really are. However, because they are so big they are taking the heat for being the ones to spread untrue articles that may have cause unprecedented problems of varying sizes. Google’s policy in letting the readers access many articles for free for a long time was what hurt publishers a lot. And since Google having so much power in the industry did not make it easy for people to refuse. If they did refuse then their articles would not show up on Goggle and would harm their business. Overall, I believe that there is a problem for publishers but this policy may not work as people are resistant to change and may not like this new change where they cannot get what they want for free.

  10. Erik Peterson November 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    I chose to comment on this article because I feel that this policy update by Google could potentially hurt each of us as students. Now that Google is conspiring with The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and the New York Times, all of the parties involved have the potential to attack college students where it hurts the most: our wallets. As a business student, I have a plethora of classes that require me to do a ton of reading, both online and out of the textbook. When a class requires a reading online, most of the time, the reading is from a website like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. (Ironically, THIS article is from the New York Times) If I was no longer able to access the online article for free, it would be very disheartening to me as a student. I already have to dish out hundreds of dollars on textbooks each semester, so why would I want to pay a monthly subscription to an online newspaper that I won’t even read?
    I think that it is very important that people try to find a better solution than forcing newspaper subscriptions on people who don’t even want them. The article mentions that there is a possibility for “subscription-based news outlets to offer three free articles a day through its search and news features, allowing users to skirt pay walls.” I think that this solution is more than fair, considering that as of today, one can read whatever they want for free, and get around the pay walls. With this solution, people who are constantly abusing the system will finally have to pay up, and at the same time, students like myself will continue to be allowed to view the articles required for class for free.
    The fact of the matter is that news outlets nowadays are not as profitable as they used to be, due to the complete outbreak of social media. People nowadays can get whatever information they feel like getting, as soon as they want to hear it. Most of the time, this includes not paying for said information. Before social media got so big, I could potentially see the news outlets not caring as much about people accessing their articles for free. However, now that they realize just how much profits they are losing by allowing this to continually happen, they have no choice but to make a change.
    I really do hope that there is a solution to this problem in which everybody wins. Personally, I don’t subscribe to any online news sources, and any time that I have to read an article on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or any other news source’s website, I am able to do it for free. If I regularly read articles off of any of those websites, I would actually have no problem with subscribing. I just think that it would be really unfair to have people pay for a monthly unlimited subscription for content that they would probably only see a fraction of.

  11. Vincent Scorese December 8, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

    In general, I think this is also a good idea by google to get together with these news places that offers subscriptions to try and keep them alive instead of taking the out as them and facebook offer plethora of news free of charge. From my own experiences with my family, the newspaper business in general is declining with the introduction of the internet and they are laying off more and more workers because of that reason. My dad was one of those who was affected in that manner and unfortunately that’s the economy shift. However, if a lot of them go under or have issues staying afloat it could make it harder on the companies to keep employees which is not what anyone wants and also if it is only a few news outlets, that could lead to bias one sided control of the news and because of the limited competition into that market it could put a strangle hold on them.

    This also shows how google is trying to promote the health of the economy by not trying to monopolize everything and in turn they are also saving their own tail form possibly being under investigation with issues pertaining to the antitrust laws in the fear that google and all of these other companies are becoming too big and are strangle holding the rest of the market around them. Microsoft did this famously in the late 90s with bill gates investing in Apple to keep them alive so that way the government wouldn’t come after bill gates and the Microsoft corporation for monopoly issues and google could be doing the same here by keeping newspaper companies around more by promoting subscriptions and ending their free first click policy and replacing it with something that favors the newspaper subscriptions services better.

    Google is very business savvy but this is also a very nice thing to see that one company is helping other companies knowing the pure power and control google holds in the general marketplace with us consumers.

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