By Michael DiNapoli
The popular search engine Google is making a big change that will affect the majority of its users. Most Google users search for news without giving it a second thought, viewing content from hundreds of different sources for free, when they would otherwise require subscriptions. That may not be the case soon when Google gets rid of its current “first click free” policy. Currently most subscription based sites allow Google users to view the first pages for free. This “first click policy” allows users of google to view the first story from websites even without a subscription. Under the system websites that don’t allow Google users to view the first page are placed lower on search results and they lose crucial web traffic. The loss in web traffic could also lose sites like the New York Times potential subscribers, because they would be less likely to notice the Times further down on the list.
With physical newspaper sales dropping in recent years these subscriptions are becoming increasingly important for companies to stay running. Between 2006 to 2016 ad revenue in the United States decreased from 49 billion to just 18 billion according to an article from Business Insider. The switch from the “first click policy” will allow many publishers to get more subscribers, regardless of popularity.
Last year when the Wall Street Journal stopped allowing Google users to see any of their articles for free, they experienced an increase in subscriptions. As people want to see the content they are producing, but they do not want to subscribe because they could get it for free from Google. Even with the increase in subscribers, they were still dropped in Google search results because of the policy. According to Bloomberg, The WSJ experienced a 44 percent drop in traffic from Google when they made the change. The drop is because the algorithm Google uses when you conduct a search looks for free content. Now that they required subscriptions, the algorithm encountered the paywall and dropped them in the results. The WSJ then argued that Google was discriminating against sites that are trying to gain more digital subscribers. The WSJ said this was unfair and argued for Google to change the algorithm. Just months ago, Google came out in big support of its “first click policy” and now they are deciding to do away with it.
Google users who still hope to get news for free may have to dig a little deeper now. With the removal of the “first click policy” websites like the WSJ who require subscriptions will now also be at the top of search results. This means that free news sites will still be around, but may be lower in the search results and harder to locate. Also, websites that are currently allowing some content to be viewed for free will start to force users to subscribe, therefore fewer free news sources will be available on the internet. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook may still allow free access to online news sources that require a subscription through their respective social media websites and apps. News organizations see social media as a good way to market and get people to notice them and their content.