Free news not so free after all

By | December 4, 2009

In a recent development, newspaper and other online publishers can now set the number of free articles which people can access through Google and keep the rest as subscriber-based only under a newly implemented program by Google, starting last year.

So what has happened is that surfers who click on more than 5 news articles will be routed to a payment or sign up page, under the most recent update to the First Click Free program. All participating websites under this program can choose to disallow people from accessing their sites and (yet) have their sites indexed in Google. I’ve written before about accessing protected pages from Google; but this method may soon no longer work, as you may well guess.

All this follows on the well publicized spat between Rupert Murdoch and Google, leading to Murdoch threatening to pull out all his news from Google and only allowing its rival Bing to index his sites, but if you look a little deeper, this isn’t just limited to a Murdoch vs Google issue.

At the heart or core of the issue is the ever declining revenue from online advertising over the past several years, a downward slide which newspaper publishers have argued makes it untenable for them to continue providing content for free. The BBC has a nice wrap up of the situation, describing it as, “Nobody has quite figured out a business model for a world where consumers don’t want their morning or evening news, but want the Now O’clock News – the “on-demand and to my taste” news.”

I think restricting content to a subscription model goes against the spirit of the Internet especially that lain down over the past couple of years by Web 2.0; there seems to be an inevitability to this trend because companies are only just waking up to the fact that Internet traffic is not as easy to monetize as they initially thought!

Case in point would be Geocities, which recently closed down. An old website of mine there, was one of the casualties.

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