Google has made an apparent concession to media publishers, allowing them to set a limit on the amount of free articles users can view when clicking through from the search engine.
The move comes just days after news broke that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was seeking an exclusive search deal with Microsoft. The tycoon has complained that search firms “steal” news content by using it to sell classified ads without compensating media companies.
Under the existing “first-click free” Google service, publishers will be able to restrict users to access only five subscription-required stories in a 24-hour period, which will protect premium sites’ revenues.
Google says users who click on more than five articles from a publisher in the program will be sent to a “registration page” which will allow publishers to capture potential subscribers.
In a blog post Google senior business product manager Josh Cohen said “previously, each click from a user would be treated as free. Now, we've updated the program so that publishers can limit users to no more five pages per day without registering or subscribing.”
BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the amendment was relatively minor, but Rupert Murdoch might see it as vindication of his decision to take on Google.
It is not certain if the decision is a direct response to Murdoch’s criticisms, however.
Its biggest effect could be to encourage content owners to charge for their material, said some analysts.
The new option will make premium content - currently hidden from search engines behind paywalls – “more discoverable without risking the loss of paying subscribers,” says GigaOm.
It also meant Google could offer richer search results and address the problem of “cloaking”, or producing search results for paid content.
New York Times media writer Eric Pfanner said Google had its own vulnerabilities.
“Google cannot take for granted its continued role as the primary hub for online content, consumers and commerce. Ten years from now, could its role as the preferred global gateway to the Web be supplanted by a social network, an internet television portal, an internet service provider, a mobile network operator or some yet-to-be-identified digital vision?”