Google today announced a new policy in its ongoing attempt to reach detente with an increasingly querulous publishing industry. (For background, read Mashable’s piece).
A key piece of the new policy has to do with changes to Google’s “First Click Free” program. From Google’s announcement:
One way we overcome this is through a program called First Click Free. Participating publishers allow the crawler to index their subscription content, then allow users who find one of those articles through Google News or Google Search to see the full page without requiring them to register or subscribe. The user’s first click to the content is free, but when a user clicks on additional links on the site, the publisher can show a payment or registration request. First Click Free is a great way for publishers to promote their content and for users to check out a news source before deciding whether to pay. Previously, each click from a user would be treated as free. Now, we’ve updated the program so that publishers can limit users to no more than five pages per day without registering or subscribing. If you’re a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you’ve clicked through to more than five articles on the website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day.
OK, I have some issues with all of this. First, why on earth do publishers need Google doing this for them? Google passes them a refer, and they can take that and do what they want with it. And they can surely create index-able “teaser pages” for their paid content as well. Publishers, stop asking Google to do the work you can and should own yourselves! Do you really need Google’s help here?
But that’s not what’s got me scratching my head this evening. My real question comes down to the whole “First Click Free” program itself.
Google clearly created this program to appease (or OK, if you want to spin it that way, to help) the publishing industry. Now it’s adding features that it says should help publishers close a loophole that is allowing Google users to get content for free.
That implies that folks are actively using Google as a tool to get free content. Is this really the case?
Perhaps, but I’d guess it’s a pretty low percentage of folks who actively try to get the Wall Street Journal by repeatedly searching on Google.
The really interesting question is this: Does “First Click Free” actually deliver a decent conversion of paid customers to media companies? (Know that by traditional marketing metrics, a decent conversion is pretty damn low – IE less than one half of one percent of people who see a paid offer actually converting).
Anyone out there have an answer?