Today, according to the Google Blog, Google is making some changes in the “First Click Free” way they have been indexing pages. Up until now, Google and publishers have worked together to allow Google to spider and index news sites, so that searchers can find it when they want it, but limiting the number of times or pages a searcher may see a particular news site (or link to other pages within the site), instead bringing up a registration/pay wall if the user wants more use. It’s all a bit complicated, but well-explained in the blog. Up until now, click-throughs on links inside news articles would progress normally; now, after five of these click-throughs, the user may encounter a registration or subscription page.
I think this is a really good move on Google’s part. Why? Because they’ve just handed Rupert Murdoch and others enough rope to hang themselves with. What do they think will happen with page rank when searchers can’t click through to articles anymore? The Google spider will stop at all such pages, dump them out of the indexing stream, and move on. This could effectively, and quickly, reduce the amount of news articles available to searchers, or put those news articles so far down the list that no one ever sees them. Google is essentially saying “go ahead, it’s your head on a platter, not ours.” If online news sources were already feeling the pinch of lowered ad revenues, what happens when their page rank drops, and the cost per ad view goes up because of it? Do they think advertisers will stick around for such little return on their investment?
Free news is not the problem. Plenty of news outlets are surviving (and thriving) by offering free news. What Murdoch and company hasn’t figured out is that the business model is changing, and that if they don’t change, they will die. And they will have been the source of their own demise.