Google to allow publishers to limit news access

Google is to put in place technology that will allow newspaper publishers to set a limit on the number of free news articles users coming to their sites through the search engine are able to access.

The move, announced late last night by Josh Cohen, senior business product manager at Google, has been proposed as an alternative to newspaper publishers delisting their content from Google if they move to a business model where access is limited to those users that pay a fee.

Last night’s announcement comes after Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, renewed his attack on Google’s ‘theft’of content from his newspaper websites yesterday while giving evidence to US regulators’ investigating on the future of journalism.

Last month, Murdoch said he would de-list his newspaper websites – including those for The Times and The Sun in the UK – from Google when paywalls go up on the sites next year.

News Corp has also been in talks with Microsoft about an alternative arrangement which could see the technology company pay News Corp to de-list from Google.

Google is seeking an alternative solution and last night outlined changes to its First Click Free programme to limit Google News users to view no more than five pages of content a day without registering or subscribing to paid-for websites.

Cohen wrote on the Google News blog: “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.”

Changes to the First Click Free programme, Cohen said, would circumvent Google’s own restrictions on “cloaking” – where publishers show an unrestricted web page to the search engines’ index but then a different page to a user to restrict their access.

He said; ” 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 website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day … while allowing publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis.”

Cohen said Google could also index and treat as “free” any preview pages – generally the headline and first few paragraphs of a story – that publishers make available to the search giant.

He added: “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.

“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. It’s simply based on the popularity of the content with users and other sites that link to it.

“These are two of the ways we allow publishers to make their subscription content discoverable, and we’re going to keep talking with publishers to refine these methods. After all, whether you’re offering your content for free or selling it, it’s crucial that people find it. Google can help with that.”

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