FT.com Ringfences Free Stories For Link Followers, Aiming To Drive Subs

As FT.com embarks on a new business model by partially dropping its pay wall, it’s also partnered with Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and 30 other sites including Yahoo, (NSDQ: YHOO) MSNBC and AOL (NYSE: TWX) to offer a free article to search site users and others. The new model lets readers view articles 30 times a month (five of them without registering) before they have to pay for a subscription. But FT.com is also now ensuring links from search sites and other partners are discounted so that users do not get their free-reads count deducted when they follow an off-site pointer to a story. FT.com publisher Ien Cheng in a statement (via Dow Jones): “Our ‘First Click Free’ allows partners to guarantee that their users will get free access to the specific story they are linking to.”

It’s not really clear whether this free article applies, literally, to the first click, or to every in-bound link from a partner but, if the latter, it could introduce a significant number of new readers to FT.com who had previously been met with only partial articles and pay barriers. US newspaper websites got 14.9 percent of their traffic from Google in March, (29.7 percent up on the previous year), according to Hitwise’s US News and Media Report. In 2004, FT.com editor Tracy Corrigan told City University professor Neil Thurman’s study being delisted from Google searches at the time had “a noticeable impact on hits”.

But Corrigan said the “huge amount of hits” stories can get from searches or portals like the Drudge Report (the biggest driver of UK newspaper site traffic ++ from the US, according to Thurman) “doesn