#newsrw: Is Google helping publishers restrict news content access?

By Judith Townend, senior reporter,

It doesn’t sound likely but it’s true: Google is helping publishers restrict user access to news content. But it only affects those publishers who are behind pay walls and also want to be indexed by Google.

Google has updated its ‘First-Click-Free’ system allowing subscription/registration publishers to restrict users’ free access to their sites.

The move follows News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch’s threats to remove news content from Google’s search index and Google News; Google MD Matt Brittin doesn’t know if Murdoch is happy with the plan, but he told British MPs this morning that Google were ‘trying to listen to what publishers’ want to do.

Under the system, publishers who run closed content models – those Google calls ‘premium content providers’ – can still be a part of Google News and Google web search without releasing their content in full.

It was designed to allow users to access a news item via Google once – but of course, users could do this for lots of articles each day. Now, they will be limited to five pages per day. Google senior business product manager Josh Cohen announced on Tuesday that publishers could charge for their content and still make it available via Google with the updated system. “The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” he explained in a blog post.

The publishers want to be part of Google, but they don’t want to disincentivise users from paying subscriptions and/or registering on the site. Now, it looks like the closed content publishers can have their cake and eat it too, for the time being at least.

But, as Malcolm Coles has accurately identified over at econsultancy, all Google is allowing is for pay-wall publishers to have more control over Google indexing.

“Google is not doing the limiting. It’s allowing publishers, who set the rules on what people to see, to limit access yet still remain in first-click free. Publishers do the limiting.”

In Parliament this morning, Brittin said: “Publishers have control and always have had the control to allow them to opt out of Google Search and Google News. They can do it today.”

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