Google is ending its First Click Free policy in favor of a Flexible Sampling model. This could change the amount of news websites that you can read without paying for a subscription to one or more of them.
Part of the point of this new change is to enable news websites to provide small samples of their articles for free so readers can determine if they want to buy a subscription. Google explains:
The ecosystem is sustained via two main sources of revenue: ads and subscriptions, with the latter requiring a delicate balance to be effective in Search. Typically subscription content is hidden behind paywalls, so that users who don’t have a subscription don’t have access. Our evaluations have shown that users who are not familiar with the high quality behind a paywall often turn to other sites offering free content. It is difficult to justify a subscription if one doesn’t already know how valuable the content is, and in fact, our experiments have shown that a portion of users shy away from subscription sites. Therefore, it is essential that sites provide some amount of free sampling of their content so that users can learn how valuable their content is.
The Flexible Sampling model will replace First Click Free. It will allow publishers to determine for themselves how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers. It sounds like Google sees the Flexible Sampling model as a “try before you buy” offer.
Google recommends that publishers start by allowing 10 free clicks per month to Google search users in order to preserve a good user experience for new potential subscribers. In addition, Google recommends publishers provide a lead-in of the first few sentences, or 50 to 100 words, of an article, in truncated content. This is intended give readers a clue about what the article is about – without giving them the full article.
The thing to keep in mind is that Google is not requiring news websites (or publishers) to provide lead-in truncated content or to allow users any free clicks per month. The decision about how much content to offer for free is left to individual publishers.