Google will let sites erect paywalls & stay searchable
First Click Free will limit access to news sites, but will it be enough to placate Rupert Murdoch?
Google has responded to recent moves by Rupert Murdoch and other publishers to erect paywalls around their online newspapers by announcing a new service that will allow content providers to limit access to their websites.
Under the First Click Free programme, publishers can post a maximum of five pages of their content before redirecting the reader to a registration or subscription page. The initiative would allow newspapers to remain searchable and accessible by Google News, but would also enable providers to begin charging for their content.
At present, sites which operate behind a paywall are not searchable by Google, and if they try to put up one page for the search engine to index but a different one demanding readers subscribe then they are punished for ‘cloaking’ their content and perform poorly in searches on the site.
Josh Cohen, senior business product manager at Google News, wrote on the service's blog yesterday that "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."
The conciliatory step came on the same day that Murdoch, the prime mover behind efforts to curtail the power of Google by removing content from search engines, again attacked what he called the "theft" being perpetrated by aggregator sites such as Google News.
"Producing journalism is expensive,” said the media tycoon. “We invest tremendous resources in our project from technology to our salaries. To aggregate stories is not fair use. To be impolite, it is theft."
Murdoch, who was talking to a US Federal Trade Commission investigating the digital future of journalism, said: "Without us, the aggregators would have blank slides. Right now, content producers have all the costs, and the aggregators enjoy [the benefits]. But the principle is clear. To paraphrase a great economist, [there is] no such thing as a free news story."
Murdoch has yet to respond to yesterday's move by Google, but it would appear that the search engine giant is looking to make concessions to a growing body of newspaper and magazine publishers who are seeking a way to make their expensive online operations pay.
Last month two US companies confirmed that they would be withdrawing their content from Google News. The decision by the search engine to allow for a hybrid model of searchable and paid content is surely just the opening gambit in what will be a long-drawn-out battle. ·
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