Report: Google ending ‘first click free’ to help publishers boost subscriptions

According to a report (registration required) in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Google is ending its “first click free” (FCF) program, which provides users access to content behind publisher subscription paywalls when they click through from Google results. The move is intended to help boost subscription rates.
According to the story, Google will allow publishers to offer FCF on a voluntary basis, but failure to do so won’t result in any rankings hit. FCF was introduced in 2007 as a way to expose subscription content to search users so that they wouldn’t be frustrated by paywalls and to help them test-drive content as an enticement to later subscribe.
As Google explained at the time it wrote about the program:
First Click Free is a way for publishers to share their subscription-only content with Google News readers. All articles that are accessed from Google News are allowed to skip over the subscription page . . .We like to think of First click free as

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