Beyond The Pay Wall: Google Limits Free News-Reading Access


"If you're a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you've clicked through to more than five articles on the Web site of a publisher using First Click Free in a day," wrote Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google, in a Tuesday post to the Google News blog. "We think this approach still protects the typical user from cloaking, while allowing publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis."

Cohen explained that Google News and Google Search will also crawl, index and treat as free the headline and the first few paragraphs of a story that publishers choose to make available to Google.

"This means that our crawlers see the exact same content that will be shown for free to a user," Cohen wrote. "Because the preview page is identical for both users and the crawlers, it's not cloaking. We will then label such stories as 'subscription' in Google News. The ranking of these articles will be subject to the same criteria as all sites in Google, whether paid or free."

The previous version of First Click Free allowed users to access articles from subscription-based sites like The Wall Street Journal's online edition. Users could search for a particular article on Google and then click through to the full article from there -- a well-known workaround for some paid sites that's drawn the ire of publishers.

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"As newspapers consider charging for access to their online content, some publishers have asked: Should we put up pay walls or keep our articles in Google News and Google Search? In fact, they can do both — the two aren't mutually exclusive," Cohen said.

The indexing of paid content on Google News and other aggregators has been in the spotlight lately as some publishers seek to block or at least limit Google-enabled free access to content.

In an early November interview with Sky News Australia, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch accused Google of stealing publishers' stories without payment and said that once pay walls were up for News Corp. properties, he planned to block Google's ability to search that content. Murdoch has also reportedly been in talks with Microsoft to have News Corp. content appear and be indexed exclusively on Microsoft's Bing search engine.