Thinking Tech

The Google News compromise and you

The Google News compromise and you

Posting in Technology

All Google has done is make a fine adjustment to its First Click Free program, under which publishers choose to open their paid content free via hyperlink.

What Google offered publishers today is being deliberately misinterpreted.

It's a compromise, and it's a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

Patrick Charnley of Eversheds is not telling the truth to his clients. Google News does not infringe on copyright, and no search engine does. Anyone can refuse a link from any source and always could.

Just write a robots.txt file that refuses access to the source of a link and you're done. Don't believe me? Watch this Google video.

All Google has done is make a fine adjustment to its First Click Free program, under which publishers choose to open their paid content free via hyperlink.

Rupert Murdoch may not know this, but I can easily link to any Wall Street Journal story, behind its paid firewall, through a headline on Google News. The change means Murdoch can limit this, if he chooses, to five stories per user per day. (He can also reject secondary links, so if you're hit with a firewall when you click "Wall Street Journal story" let me know.)

As Josh Cohen of Google explains at the company blog, "Our users shouldn't notice any difference." This simply provides a third option for publishers. They can exclude Google crawlers from their sites, they can keep the current arrangement of first click free, or they can limit users to five clicks per day.

This deal applies only to news sites that require registration or subscription revenue. Every site that doesn't goes on as before. There is still a much bigger business in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), trying to maneuver Google into linking to you, than there will ever be in trying to limit it.

And the risks to sites in putting up firewalls remain. You lose a big portion of incoming traffic by requiring registration, an even bigger portion when you demand cash.

But if your news is niche you have always had the option of restricting access. Most scientific journals have long been available, online, only to registered or paid subscribers.

Newspapers with a small circulation area may also find that the extra traffic generated by being accessible through a search engine isn't worth it. And a business-to-business journal may find that less traffic means you're giving more value to the paying customers, as they know stuff the cheapskates don't.

The problem lies with our great metropolitan newspapers. They have wide circulation. They need traffic, and they need buzz, because if no one hears them among the nattering classes they no longer exist. What Google has announced doesn't change their situation at all.

Hopefully, someone smart has access to Rupert Murdoch and is explaining this to him. He can still make a deal with Bing, or some other search engine. If he wants he can buy into a smaller search engine, say Ask.Com, and bet that his "exclusives" will mean not only more income but a stock pop as well.

But except for a few news junkies -- who probably work in competing news rooms anyway -- this is really no big deal. If you're inconvenienced just switch browsers, or don't sign into Google, get in your car and turn on your WiFi, then drive around a bit to change your IP address.

This assumes you need more than 5 stories at a single paid news site each day. If you do, maybe you ought to consider subscribing.

So in the end choice remains. Publishers have choices -- they can put up firewalls, they can exclude Google in whole or in part. Readers have choices, too. They can choose to not visit sites that limit access, even when they're offered a free taste. Bloggers, too, may choose to only create links to stories that are open to all their readers.

Hopefully all this will become more transparent. I'm tired of using Google links to stories I can't gain access to. This should end that practice.

It's a win-win-win. Except for those publishers who think search engines should be paying them for links. And their lawyers, like Mr. Charnley. They're still getting what they were getting before -- nothing. Which is what they deserve.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure