Well, looks like the jig is up for cheapskate news junkies. Search giant Google has decided to discontinue its trick that granted freeloading site visitors access to articles that are meant to be behind paywalls.
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Here’s how Google’s “First Click Free” policy used to work: Since 2009, users were able to read a set number of articles (as of 2015, it was three) per day behind a publisher’s paywall if they visited the article through a Google search. If you exhausted your supply of “free” paywalled articles for a site like NYT, you’d be out of luck until the day was over (or until you paid for a subscription). So, while you couldn’t read every big story on the web, you could get a look at the most important ones to you and stay informed. Unfortunately, if you were a publisher that didn’t want their articles available for free and easy reading, the decision to opt out of the policy meant a demotion in your site’s Google search rankings was inevitable.
Instead, the company will now allow publishers the freedom to choose the number of free articles users can read when found through Google’s search engine. It’s called “Flexible Sampling”, and will it lets publishers choose how many articles they will offer for free on a monthly basis, and how much of an article they will share before requiring users to pay up.
For their part, Google is suggesting that publishers offer 10 free articles per month — as well as free previews of a portion of other articles — in order to encourage users to familiarise themselves enough to want to pay for access. Both options also let publishers maintain their Google search ranking without offering content gratis.
For the typical consumer, this it probably means you’ll be reading fewer features and more listicles until you’re willing to pay up, and it’s possible that publishers could severely restrict the number of free articles available to users, a gamble that could result in either an increase in paid subscribers or an overall decrease in site traffic. With more sites using paywalls to generate revenue, it’s getting more difficult to avoid shelling out a few bucks to get the news from certain popular news outlets — and really, shouldn’t we be paying news outlets for their work? — making it a matter of time before your Netflix plan sits next to your Wall Street Journal subscription in your monthly entertainment budget.