Nearly three years ago, News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch boldly decided to block search engines from indexing articles published on The Times, for fear that doing so would allow users to circumvent his paper's paywall. Now, however, he's reportedly changing his tune. Citing sources close to the company, The Telegraph reports that News Corp. will soon allow Times articles to appear in results on Google and other search engines, in the hopes of broadening the paper's audience and boosting its ad revenue.
According to TechCrunch, Times articles will be retrievable in what sources call "free limited previews" that display only the first two sentences of each story. Clicking on an article's link will direct users to a subscriber page, prompting them to pay for full access. The Times currently offers three subscription packages — a web-only option for £2 a week, web and iPad access for £4 a week, and an all-inclusive print subscription for £6 a week. News Corp.'s timeline for implementing its new policy remains unclear.
"That is the least valuable traffic to us."
By changing course, News Corp. is apparently acknowledging the value of culling traffic from Google and other search engines, marking a stark shift from 2009, when chief digital officer Jonathan Miller vehemently downplayed their significance. "The traffic which comes in from Google brings a consumer who more often than not read one article and then leaves the site," Miller said. "That is the least valuable traffic to us." Murdoch himself has had choice words for Google, at one point describing the site as a "parasite" and "content kleptomaniac."
The Times has enjoyed moderate success since erecting its paywall, attracting more than 132,000 digital subscribers as of July 2012, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. But print circulation has declined, as has its traffic. According to comScore, The Times site lost 4 million unique visitors just five months after its paywall went up. Opening its doors to Google should help reverse that trend, though it remains to be seen whether two-sentence previews will be enough to attract new subscribers.