Google announced earlier today plans to limit the number of articles one can read before being asked for a subscription in a bid to calm the traditional publishing sector ahead of a potentially explosive 2010 marked by the emergence of ebook readers and the possible rise of Microsoft Bing.
The First Click Free plan may however have spell disaster for news websites that either charge too much or do not provide with enough incentives for the readers to pay for their content.
More specifically, one can expect smaller news websites to benefit from a potential exodus of readers who are addicted to news but unlikely to pay for it, except through advertising. In addition, readers leaving the websites means a lower audience for advertisers and consequently less advertising revenues.
Ironically, many news outlets may end up clamouring that their most compelling selling point is the fact that they are free and require no registration or payment. And it is the smaller websites, the ones that eke out a living on "secondary" news that could be the big winners.
Worse, preventing Google spiders from accessing content for free or limiting the content available for indexing means that other lesser known news websites may rank higher and reduce the Pagerank scores of those asking for a fee.
The First Click Free programme is an interesting one in the sense that it should be easily circumvented if you need to simply by using the privacy option of browsers such like Firefox or Chrome. This is because the FCF solution normally relies on cookies to count the number of times an article is displayed.