Google (NSDQ: GOOG), which has a little-known program for subscription sites indexed through Google News, called “first-click free“, is finally announcing an upgrade that is bound to make Mr. Murdoch happy. What the program was: a way for subscription sites to still get enough clicks from Google News, by making the first click from the news search service free, and then hitting the paywall after that (for instance, on WSJ.com). But users could easily game the system by searching for enough stories from a particular site and read lots more for free than the publisher intended. Now Google is finally rectifying that, after feedback from publishers, to restrict users to be able to access only five stories in a 24-hour period, thus helping protect premium sites’ revenues but still giving away enough stuff for free, or so their thinking goes.
Google says users who click on more than five articles from a publisher in the program may now see a “registration page” — something that the company says in a blog post will allow “publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis.” This is bound to make sites like WSJ.com, FT.com and other premium services happy, and perhaps timed with all the brouhaha about the value of Google search traffic the Bing overtures to publishers.