Google Offers Olive Branch to Publishers by Relaxing Policy on Subscription Sites


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Google is planning to end its “first click free” policy that enables users of its search engine to bypass paywalls on news websites, a move that could help publishers boost subscriptions, News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said.

Google for years has encouraged publishers to be part of the program, which allows search users to access a limited amount of content on subscription-based news sites free of charge. Some publishers say the policy has hurt subscription growth and say their sites are penalized in Google’s search rankings if they don’t participate in the program. The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp, opted out of the program in 2017 and saw its traffic from Google search fall 38% and from Google News fall 89% compared with a year earlier because its stories were demoted in search results, a spokesman said. Now, Google is ready to end the first-click-free program and allow publishers to choose how users access their sites from its search results. People familiar with the situation said Google will still enable subscription-oriented publishers to give search users a free sample of their stories if they choose to, but they won’t be penalized if they don’t.

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