Google’s decade-plus First Click Free program sounded innocuous enough. In its perpetual effort to keep the Open Web free, Google promised a search throughway to news pages. If publishers wanted to be easily found, they found little choice but to accept the mandates of First Click Free. Now, as Google announces the end of the policy that many publishers long abhorred, we’ll begin to see the potential damage to news businesses it’s done over the years.
“The end of First Click Free opens up a whole new world. It has the potential to mean millions of dollars a year gets plowed back into journalism,” Edward Roussel, chief innovation officer of Dow Jones, told me Friday.
Says another major publisher involved in the testing of the end of First Click Free, “We’ll see a double-digit lift in subscription conversion. Of the universe of people in the test and the variations of lower meter counts, we saw encouraging results. Not moderately encouraging, pretty encouraging results that indicated we would see a lift in conversions and subscriptions at lower meter counts.”
In a week when “the platforms” drove so much major news — Facebook, Google and Twitter called to face political music and Facebook’s news subscriptions program launching [The Street: Facebook Subscriptions: “Tokenism” or a “Real Test?”] — the news of First Click Free fits right in.
Of course, as with so much, it’s got the strong element of heightened Google vs. Facebook competition.
Further, in the ever-shifting winds of dominating digital business, mounting suspicion on the left and right of bigness in general, and regulatory threats mounting, the platforms show their ability to make adjustments. There may be no better time for them to repair problematic relationships with news media, and as they accede to some publisher requests, publishers see a new flexibility. Quietly, top news publishers now eagerly compile wishlists for the next rounds of negotiating beyond public view.