Google helps publishers boost tally of paying subscribers

Google said news websites no longer have to provide users with three free articles per day or face less prominence in search results.

NEW YORK • 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 are probably familiar with an easy workaround: Plug a search term or headline into Google, and voila! - free access to articles normally locked behind paywalls.

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 acknowledgement of this industry-wide strategy shift, Google is working on new tools that could help news organisations 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 via 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. It is a try-before-you-buy approach that would hopefully induce readers to become subscribers.

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 behaviour. Its suite of subscription support services is expected to begin rolling out in the first half of next year.

"We're not suggesting this is a magic bullet for growing subscription revenue," said Mr Richard Gingras, Google's vice-president of news. "We'll continue to collaborate - this is a journey."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Google helps publishers boost tally of paying subscribers'. Print Edition | Subscribe