Google helps limit online access

Google fell under the spotlight in November when the debate over news sites’ value to search engines swirled up into rumour of a Bing-News Corp deal. Google responded by offering to limit, for publishers, the number of paid stories readers can view after clicking its search results – and now, strident paywall cheerleader is taking it up on the offer…

The paper tells paidContent:UK its website is currently implementing the modified version of Google’s First-Click-Free scheme, which was designed to show free full-text articles to users who come via Google even if that story is behind a paywall. It’s planning a Q2 switch-on for the modification, which will instead limit the number of paywalled articles searchers can read freely to five in any day. has used First-Click Free for some time. The scheme was intended to entice sporadic search users, who find only the occasional article, to subscribe to paid content sites – but it’s had the side-effect of letting canny users get free access to paid websites in their entirety by searching for the headlines of stories behind the wall. The modification tightens that noose.

The until 2007 had operated one big paywall (an annual subscription that now costs between £171 and £259). Then online publisher Ien Cheng introduced a third-way model that, regardless of search spiders, gave five free articles to non-subscribers and a further 25 to those who register for free. Since Cheng’s exit, has slimmed that to just one free article and another nine to signed-up free members.

But the FT has been doing so boldly, and it’s worked – just as it’s raised its cover price in response to rising sales, paid subs rose 22 percent to 121,000 between December 2008 and 2009 and is amongst those leading the charge. managing editor Rob Grimshaw joins a Q&A with Google News’ Josh Cohen and others at our conference paidContent 2010: Discussing the Economics of Content, this Friday, Feb. 19, at TheTimesCenter in New York.