Google Enables Publishers to Limit Free Views of News Stories

In a post titled “Google and Paid Content,” published the first day of a Federal Trade Commission workshop on how journalism will survive the digital era, the search giant has announced it will update one of its programs so it’s easier for news publishers to require frequent readers to register, subscribe and pay for content.

The post acknowledges the trend toward greater interest in charging for online content. “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,” Josh Cohen said in the post. Cohen is senior business product manager for Google and spoke at the FTC event.

The change to “First Click Free” enables publishers to set a limit on how many articles can be viewed before users are asked to register, subscribe or pay to read more. Now, publishers can limit users to five pages per day.

This allows news sites to focus on frequent users as a source of information and income, much like the “Journalism Online” model described by co-founder Steven Brill.

Brill also addressed the FTC, noting “market research suggests that some news sites may be able to get 10 percent or more of their readers to pay online for content of ‘distinctive value.’ “

As part of the changes announced Tuesday, Google will index preview pages that readers could access before deciding whether to pay for content. Those pages would be labeled “subscription” in Google News.

In its announcement, Google acknowledged the tension between free search services and the need to financially support journalism. “We love helping publishers make their content available to large groups of readers, and working on ways to make the world’s information useful and accessible through our search results,” said . “At the same time, we’re also aware of the fact that creating high-quality content is not easy and, in many cases, expensive.”

The change also recognizes the role of user preference in search. “Paid content may not do as well as free options, but that is not a decision we make based on whether or not it’s free,” Mueller wrote, “It’s simply based on the popularity of the content with users and other sites that link to it.”

In testimony at the FTC workshop, Rupert Murdoch — whose News Corp. may be talking with Google-rival Microsoft on a search deal — criticized aggregators who make available for free what others have paid to report and publish.

The Associated Press has started work on a news registry that would track use of its material. The AP is currently working on tracking copyright infringements with Attributor, which released data on Tuesday that showed how often newspaper articles are reproduced online without permission.

Attributor found that from mid-October to mid-November, there were 111,000 instances of sites using 80 percent or more of a story published by one of 157 newspapers.

Google announced Wednesday that it will also make it easier for publishers to block portions of their Web sites from indexing.

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