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One of the interesting things about The Wall Street Journal's paywall is that it lets Google searchers view The Journal's subscription content for free. But that isn't likely to continue. Rupert Murdoch has been sounding the alarm about charging for News Corp. content. And today Google made a change to its search program that will put an end to freeloaders who use Google search as an endless free pass to WSJ.com.

The Journal takes advantage of Google's First Click Free program, giving Google searchers access to the full text of a document found through Google search results before hitting the pay wall. But now users who click on more than five articles from a publisher in a day will see a “registration page” — in efforts to get potentional subscribers to poney up for content. That should help News Corp. wring a few extra dollars out of frequent Wall Street Journal readers. Too bad that's not what Murdoch is concerned with at this point.

Google says in a blog post that the shift will allow “publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis.”

But these changes point to a bigger problem with Murdoch's entire paywall plan. It's not hard to fix the problem of giving away free information through Google search. It is more a question of perception.

News Corp. can take its content off of Google's search crawler whenever it wants. But that will not suffice. They want to fundamentally change the way that people access news content online.

If Murdoch can get other publishers to sign a deal to make an alternate search engine (like Bing) the place people go for media content, he may find a route to a better pay model for journalism.

But there are many hurdles on the way to that solution. A few of which Arianna Huffington hit upon just today at the FTC’s ‘How Will Journalism Survive The Internet Age?’ conference.

The Huffington Post especially has come under fire for stealing content — the site often publishes entire articles from other sources on its pages. But here's what Huffington has to say about News Corp. specifically:

“We link to the Wall Street Journal daily. We have never had a single complain. We drive a lot of traffic to them and they like it.”

A bigger issue is the recurring efforts by publishers to charge for their content. Some — like News Corp. — have been endlessly threatening to put up paywalls. Some — like The New York Times — have tried to charge for access and retreated. With the recession — and the ongoing media crisis — publishers are hoping that readers will be more open to paying for content. But there's no proof that they actually will do so, which is part of why it is taking Murdoch so long to act on his threats (and to get others to sign on to do the same). Huffington has some pessimistic advice for publishers that want to charge:

“Free content is not without problems, but it’s here to stay and publishers need to come to terms with that.”

Meghan Keane

Published 1 December, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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