Google Caps First Click Free at Five Pages to Appease Publishers

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-02

Google Dec. 1 extended an olive branch to newspaper publishers by letting them limit the number of articles readers can view for free on Google News to five per day.

The move came the same day News Corp. founder and publishing mogul Rupert Murdoch, speaking at a Federal Trade Commission workshop on the future of journalism in the Web age, lashed out at online aggregators for raking in ad revenues from content without compensating publishers. For example, Google News host snippets and links to news from a variety of sources and generates ad revenue against the content.

Google's cap is a concession to this concern and comes to its First Click Free provision, in which participating publishers allow the crawler to index their subscription content on Google News, or the company's Web search engine. Readers who find one of those articles can see the full page without requiring them to register or subscribe, even if the content is behind a so-called paywall.

While a Google News reader or Google searcher could click to access a story on Murdoch's Wall Street Journal for free, he or she would see a payment or registration request from the publisher when they clicked on other links on the site.

However, readers read as much Journal content as they please by accessing other Journal articles on Google. With the change to the First Click Free provision, publishers can cap to five pages per day what readers can view without registering or subscribing.

"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 News.

Cohen also said Google will index any preview pages, such as the headline and first few paragraphs of a story, publishers make available and labelthose stories as "subscription" in Google News.

At the workshop Murdoch accused sites hosting his content of theft.

"There are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purpose without contributing a penny to its production," he said. "Content creators bear all the costs, while aggregators enjoy many of the benefits. In the long term, this is untenable."

Murdoch, who threatened last month to de-index the Wall Street Journal and other paid content from Google, is reportedly working on a deal that would make Google rival Microsoft Bing's fledgling search engine an exclusive host partner of Journal and other News Corp. content.

Others said this alleged plan will not come to fruition.

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