Google has always been treated by the news industry as a kind of frenemy. Many news organizations have a tortured history with Google, including some who’ve successfully lobbied against Google in Europe. Yet for roughly a decade Google has been trying to help publishers make more money while continuing to try and serve users and its own commercial interests.
Google news-industry outreach has taken multiple forms over the years. For example, in 2009 Google proposed a range of tools and services built around the notion of “micro-payments” to publishers. The proposal included multiple components, including search, e-commerce and advertising for news organizations.
Out of these efforts eventually came Google’s First Click Free program, whereby users could gain access to otherwise subscription-protected news content in search results — with the intention of improving the outlook for subscription revenue, though Google hasn’t uniformly enforced it. Google’s Consumer Surveys provide payments to publishers (take a survey for content access) and so on.
AMP is also an effort to improve the performance of news and other content publisher sites on mobile devices. And the recent redesign of Google News was partly intended to showcase and make news-publisher content more discoverable.
Bloomberg reported earlier today that Google is making a renewed push to help publishers increase subscription revenue. The plan appears to be an updated version of the 2009 proposal, including revamping first click free (reducing the number of daily articles), enabling payments and subscriber recruiting:
Google’s latest foray arrives on three fronts. The first is a revamp of its feature, called “first click free,” that allows readers to access articles from subscription publications through search. Google is also exploring publishers’ tools around online payments and targeting potential subscribers. It’s all part of Google’s broader effort to keep consumers and content-makers returning to the web, the lifeblood of its ads business.
Bloomberg also says that Google is collaborating with the New York Times Co., News Corp and the Financial Times on the new initiatives. However the Wall Street Journal, now owned by News Corp., dropped out of first click free earlier this year. “After the newspaper ended the program, subscriptions ticked up, but traffic from Google fell off a cliff,” said the company.
As ad money has declined for news publishers they’ve had to find ways to increase subscription revenue. For example, the New York Times recently made its popular Cooking site a paid product.