Google ditches "first click free," loathed by many publishers

Google users may soon be paying more for online articles.

The search giant said it will end its so-called "first click free," a policy loathed by many publishers and media because it required them to provide a limited amount of free content before readers could be subjected to a paywall.

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. Publishers had been required to provide at least three free items under the previous policy created by the search engine.

Newspapers and magazines have shut down or shrunk operations drastically worldwide because of the influx of stories, images and video jettisoned across the internet, largely at no charge. Technological changes have fractured the advertising market and constrained revenues for almost all established media.

"Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them," Gingras wrote in the blog post. "So as of this week, we are ending the First Click Free policy, which required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before people were shown a paywall."

Google decided to offer more flexibility to publishers based on additional research, feedback from publishers, and extended experiments with The New York Times and Financial Times, Gingras said.

The decision was hailed immediately by media companies like News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said in a company release that News Corp. would closely monitor the change to make sure that readers would be able to find its content.

Google says it's working with publishers to streamline whatever payment form they would like to pursue so that it's easier for users to decide what they wish to pay for. The goal is to help publishers identify possible subscribers and build a better subscription model, Google said.

"Subscribing to great content should not be as hard as it is today," Gingras added. "Registering on a site, creating and remembering multiple passwords, and entering credit card information—these are all hassles we hope to solve."