Google Offers Hand to News Publishers
By Jack Nicas
Google is rolling out a package of new policies and services to help news publishers increase subscriptions, a move likely to warm its icy relationship with some of the biggest critics of its power over the internet.
Google said it will end this week its decade-old "first click free" policy that required news websites to give readers free access to articles from Google's search results. The policy upset publishers that require subscriptions, believing it undercut their efforts to get readers to pay for news.
Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., said it also plans tools to help increase subscriptions, including enabling users to log in with their Google passwords to simplify the subscription process and sharing user data with news organizations to better target potential subscribers.
With billions of people using its search, YouTube and other web properties, Google has an outsize influence on a wealth of industries and modern society. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the company is investigating whether Russian-linked entities used its ads or services to sway opinion ahead of last year's U.S. presidential election, following similar moves by Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.
The new publisher rules are good news for the print industry, which has largely struggled to convert its business model to the internet as print advertising sales have plummeted in the digital age. Google and Facebook dominate the internet ad industry, and news organizations are increasingly reliant on those two tech giants for web traffic. Google says it drives 10 billion clicks a month to publishers' sites.
Some newspapers even asked Congress this year to exempt them from antitrust laws so they could negotiate collectively with the tech giants.
Those challenges have caused years of budget cuts and staff reductions at news organizations, which Google says led it to act.
"We really recognize the transition to digital for publishers hasn't been easy," Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler said in an interview. He said a strong news industry boosts the utility of Google search and helps Google's ad business, which sells ads on news sites. "The economics are pretty clear: If publishers aren't successful, we can't be successful."