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Google Said to Prioritize Stories for Papers' Paying Readers

(Bloomberg) -- Google users who subscribe to newspapers will find articles from those publications appearing higher in their search results, part of the tech giant’s efforts to help media companies find and retain paying readers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Alphabet unit will also begin sharing search data that show who’s most likely to buy a subscription, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Google executives plan to disclose specific details at an event in New York on March 20, according to the people. Google declined to comment.

The moves could help publishers better target potential digital subscribers and keep the ones they’ve already got by highlighting stories from the outlets they’re paying for. The initiative marks the latest olive branch from Silicon Valley in its evolving relationship with media companies.

Several publishers, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post, are focusing on getting readers to pay for their content as it becomes more difficult to support newsrooms with advertising revenue. Many have been pushing Google and Facebook for new tools to drive subscriptions, arguing they should help support trusted journalism at a time when their platforms have been exploited to publish fake news.

Facebook recently made major changes to its News Feed algorithm that are expected to shrink publishers’ online audiences. But it’s helping publishers in other ways. In October, the company began a test to support paywalls in Instant Articles, letting publishers process payments directly and keep all of the revenue. In February, Facebook announced a program to help metro papers build subscriptions.

Apple, meanwhile, bought Texture, a digital magazine service, this week in what the company said was a sign that it’s committed to supporting quality journalism.


Click Policy

Last year, Google changed its “First Click Free” policy that led some media outlets with strict online paywalls to appear lower in search results. Now, instead of requiring publishers with paywalls to provide at least three free articles per day, media companies can decide how many articles to let Google users read without paying.

While tech giants try to forge closer business ties with media outlets, the revenue flowing to publishers remains relatively small. Facebook and Google, which also owns YouTube, represent just 5 percent of publishers’ total digital revenue, according to Digital Content Next, a trade group representing the Financial Times, Bloomberg News, New York Times and other publishers. Google’s AMP program, which hosts articles on its servers instead of publishers’ websites so they load faster, has won praise for helping drive more subscriptions, but “revenue has been slow to build,” the group said in a January report.

Google shares rose 0.5 percent to $1,144.24 as of 9:33 a.m. in New York. The stock is up about 9.5 percent this year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.