Google Blinks on News Content

Google yesterday offered a concession to news publishers accusing it of stealing audience away from their paid-subscription websites by allowing them to view virtually unlimited articles through Google News.  Google closed a loophole in the Google News “First Click Free” feature that users could exploit.  Now Google limits users to reading five articles from any subscription news site in a given day.

This is a small step in appeasement to growing anger from News Corp. and other news publishers about Google’s ability to monetize news content.  This small gesture addresses the most egregious aspect of the dispute, the claim that Google siphons off subscription revenue from sites like News Corp’s wsj.com and Pearson’s ft.com.

Google may have been prompted to act by News Corp’s threat to accept money from Microsoft for blocking Google from crawling its sites — a deal that looks much better serving as a negotiating gambit in a greater game than it does on its own.

Google’s move may simply be a matter of appeasement to avert litigation, but it also could be interpreted as a sign of fear that it could lose News Corp content from its search results.  This would be an admission from Google that certain commercial content actually has more value than an equivalent volume of other random content on the Internet — the same admission that is implicit in its pending settlement with the book publishing industry.

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