Suddenly, everyone realizes the importance of quality journalism — and has a plan to “help.”
Google announced Monday that it will be offering its biggest olive branch yet to publishers: new ways to attract subscribers, as well as a change in how paywalled articles can be accessed through search.
It’s an important shift for Google, which remains a major traffic driver for publishers, especially through search.
The change to the way Google Search deals with paywalls is the most immediate shift. Publishers had been required to let readers access at least three articles through Google Search or News. Now, Google will let publishers decide how many free articles will be accessible via those tools.
“Google’s decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is a positive development,” said Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, in a Google blog post. “We’re encouraged as well by Google’s willingness to consider other ways of supporting subscription business models, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to craft smart solutions.”
In the future, Google will also be rolling out “a suit of products and services to help publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions, and grow revenue,” write Google Vice President of News Richard Gingras in a blog post.
Additionally, Google’s working on making the subscription process simpler. (It was not immediately evident whether Google would take a cut of the revenue.)
“It’s extremely clear that advertising alone can no longer pay for the production and distribution of high quality journalism — and at the same time, the societal need for sustainable independent journalism has never been greater. Reader-based revenue, aka paid content, or subscription services, are therefore not just a nice-to-have, but an essential component of a publisher’s revenue composition,” said Jon Slade, Financial Times chief commercial officer, in a blog post.
Google’s announcement comes as Facebook is in the midst of a charm offensive with publishers, launching a variety of journalism-related projects and teasing new ways for publishers to introduce subscription options.
However, those efforts have been tempered by a growing resentment in the media world of Facebook and other large platforms, particularly over how they’ve served as disseminators of propaganda and misinformation. Some big-name publishers have downgraded the importance they put on these platforms and instead are attempting to form more direct relationships with readers, including through subscriptions that provide a better business model.
Google and Facebook are both working to insinuate themselves into these situations. Both platforms are still capable of delivering millions of readers to publishers, and the prospect of that power being used to drive subscriptions is undoubtedly tempting.
Of course, publishers have seen this before. Google and Facebook spent the past few years positioning themselves between publishers and readers —something that would generally be regarded as a negative development, particularly considering how many advertising dollars the two platforms now grab. Google and Facebook now look to be trying to do the same thing to subscriptions that they’ve done to ads.