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Wall Street Journal limits free reading via Google

Limited access to paywalled articles

One of the world’s most prominent newspapers has confirmed that its website no longer allows a free initial read of all stories via Google, prompting speculation that other titles may soon follow suit.

Google First Click Free (FCF) is used by numerous publications which employ paywalls to limit access to their material. It enables users to click through from Google News to read articles once with no charge, before requesting subscription to read again.

This provides a midway option between news sources which insist on payment for access to all stories, such as the Times; and those which offer all content free, such as the Guardian (both UK-based publications).

Hybrid approach

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a leading US paper based in New York, formerly allowed access to all stories – but when questioned by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land last week, the company admitted that some articles are excluded.

Ashley S Huston, vice president of corporate communications, told Mr Sullivan via email: “Google FCF is a way to introduce our content to new readers and broaden our audience. As a strategy, we hold back a few of our top stories by not having the full story crawled, which limits select articles from being available via FCF.”

Mr Sullivan wonders whether this is an approach that more newspapers may consider to improve subscription numbers. He also notes that despite using FCF, which allows up to five free clicks per day, some newspapers – specifically the New York Times – allow people visiting their website via social media websites to access content multiple times.

Richard Frost, managing editor at theEword, said: “It is interesting to see the Wall Street Journal adopting a hybrid approach to Google First Click Free instead of the usual blanket approach. In terms of encouraging paying readers, it makes sense that certain articles are available only to subscribers, while still allowing free access to others as a teaser.”

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