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December 3, 2009

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Google moves to pacify news firms

GOOGLE is offering news publishers a way to attract paying subscribers without having to remove their content from Google News search results, after some media companies accused it of profiting from their online news.

The Web search giant said it would adapt its so-called First Click Free program to prompt online readers to register or subscribe to a news provider's site after reading five free articles from that publisher in a day.

Previously, the user's first click on any article would be free for an unlimited number of articles, provided the user did not click through any more links from any article.

Google said the update would allow publishers to focus on potential subscribers who were accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis. Google Senior Business Product Manager Josh Xohen said: "As newspapers consider charging for access to their online content, some publishers have asked: Should we put up pay walls or keep our articles in Google news and Google search?"

"In fact they can do both - the two aren't mutually exclusive," he wrote on Google News's official blog.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp had been reported to be considering removing its news from Google's Web search results and to be talking to rival Microsoft search engine Bing about listing stories there instead.

News Corp already limits online access to The Wall Street Journal newspaper to paying subscribers, and plans to do the same for its Times and Sunday Times newspapers in Britain.

Many other news providers are also considering putting up pay walls around online content as a recession-led slump and structural changes in advertising mean they can no longer fund news-gathering operations from ad revenues.

Google's relationship with publishers who put news behind pay walls is complicated by the fact its Web crawlers need to access the content behind the pay wall to index it and make it discoverable by its search engine.

But its crawlers cannot fill in registration or subscription forms, leading to the potential for users to be shown different content from what the crawler sees, hence encouraging users to click through to pages that are not what they expected.

First Click Free is Google's way around that problem, known as cloaking.

Google also offers free previews of articles that publishers give it and gives them the label as "subscription" in Google News.



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