Most online news publications are not able to support themselves these days with advertising. For this reason, among others, Google is yielding to publisher requests and replacing its much-debated “First Click Free” program with what it calls “Flexible Sampling.” Content and news publishers will now control whether and how many articles they want to let searchers access before showing a paywall or subscription prompt. The company is also working on an array of other tools to help boost publisher subscriptions. Google’s VP for News, Richard Gingras, told me last week that the company has been collaborating with publishers and testing the new approach with the New York Times and the Financial Times specifically. But despite allowing publishers greater flexibility, Google is still recommending (but not enforcing) that publishers make some content available for free in search results: Based on our investigations, we have created detailed best practices for implementing flexible sampling. There are two types of sampling we advise: metering, which provides users with a quota of free articles to consume, after which paywalls will start appearing; and lead-in, which offers a portion of an article’s content without it being shown in full. Publishers will not be required to provide…
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