Google to stop penalizing paywalled news in search results

The search giant is taking steps to bolster relations with publishers.

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Getty Images/Tetra images RF
Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Google is relaxing its rules on subscription news stories in a bid to thaw increasingly frosty relationships with prominent media giants. Previously, under Google's "first click free" policy, publishers such as The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal would have to provide users with a number of free articles every day, or be penalized in Google's search results. Publishers argued that this affected sales and slowed the take-up of online news subscription services at a time when many relied on revenue from content hidden behind paywalls.

Now, Google is pledging to show all subscription news hits in search, allowing publishers to choose how many (if any) articles they provide for free through the search engine, without any impact on search result position. Google also plans to create software that would allow readers to pay for subscription news services with credit card information linked to their Google accounts, facilitating fast payments in a single click and helping to remove some of the barriers to subscription take-up.

This revised outlook marks something of a one-eighty for Google, which until now had news organizations largely at its mercy. But as The New York Times reports, according to Google's chief business officer Philipp Schindler, "It's really all an attempt to try to create a new world -- a better world -- for journalism." It's not clear exactly how this "new world" looks yet, but with Facebook also recently switching things up with its policy on news sharing, you can bet this change of direction hasn't come from the simple goodness of their hearts. As Schindler added, "We have an inherent interest in making publishers successful".

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