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.