Google has finally decided to shutter its contentious First Click Free policy, which forced publishers to provide Google search results access to content even if it’s behind a paywall. Publishers were required “to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before people were shown a paywall.” In its place, Google has introduced what it calls Flexible Sampling, which shifts control to the publishers.

We will end our First Click Free policy in favor of a Flexible Sampling model where publishers will decide how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers based on their own business strategies. This move is informed by our own research, publisher feedback, and months-long experiments with the New York Times and the Financial Times, both of which operate successful subscription services.

In regards to Flexible Sampling, Google suggests that publishers could explore monthly Metering, instead of daily Metering because it “allows publishers more flexibility to experiment with the number of free stories to offer people and to target those more likely to subscribe. For most publishers, 10 articles per month is a good starting point.” Read more about how publishers can possibly approach Flexible Sampling and Metering here and here.

Making subscriptions more attractive to users

Besides doing away with the First Click Free policy, Google is also keen to make subscriptions a more attractive option to users.

  • Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue.
  • We are also looking at how we can simplify the purchase process and make it easy for Google users to get the full value of their subscriptions across Google’s platforms.

One-click subscription

The search giant has also mentioned that it will utilise its existing identity and payment technologies to allow users to subscribe to a publication with a single click, “and then seamlessly access that content anywhere— whether it’s on that publisher site or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News.” The company will also make use of its machine learning capabilities to “help publishers recognize potential subscribers and present the right offer to the right audience at the right time.”

Facebook’s subscription service plans

In June this year, it was reported that The Wall Street Journal and parent company News Corp were in talks with Facebook to offer its articles via a subscription model on the social networking platform. The subscription model, if it materializes, will be great news for not just publishers, who are struggling to get a bite of the online advertising pie dominated by Google and Facebook, but also for Facebook’s content hosting and monetization platform Instant Articles.

There is a catch though: Publishers’ experience of Instant Articles has demonstrated that it doesn’t really create an additional source of revenue, and neither does it not take away audience from a publisher. The Washington Post’s executive director for emerging news products, Cory Haik had earlier told WSJ that the publisher had witnessed a drop in mobile traffic to its website because of Instant Articles, and that the decline had been directly offset by the number of people consuming its content via Instant Articles. Unhappy with the monetization plans, more and more news organizations are opting out of Instant Articles.

Decline in ad revenue in India

In India, media houses are faced with a catch-22 situation. On one hand advertising revenues are on the decline, and on the other they are wary of charging customers for fear of losing readership. For the quarter ended June 30, 2017, HT Media, which publishes dailies such as Hindustan Times and Mint, reported that its print advertising was hit by the implementation of the GST. Some, however, have taken the braver route and have introduced partial or complete paywalls such as Business Standard, VCCircle, The Ken and Newslaundry. Meanwhile, The Indian Express said it will soon have paid ad-free plans for readers on the website.

Also Read: HT Media plans cost-optimisation as print advertising revenue declines