Google, like Facebook, unfurls subscription tool for publishers

Alphabet’s Google is developing new tools designed to boost subscriptions for news publishers. It follows a similar olive branch from Facebook to an industry that has seen the digital behemoths take over the online advertising market.

Google’s latest foray arrives on three fronts. The first is a revamp of its feature, called “first click free,” that allows readers to access articles from subscription publications through search. 

Google is also exploring publishers’ tools around online payments and targeting potential subscribers. It’s all part of Google’s broader effort to keep consumers and content-makers returning to the web, the lifeblood of its ads business.

Initially, Google is testing the tools with New York Times and the Financial Times. But Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president for news, said the search giant is talking to dozens of other outlets as media companies move toward online subscription models.

“It’s clear from news publishers that they can’t live on advertising alone,” he said. “But it’s also clear that we’re seeing a shift in a market.”

Media companies are focused intently on online subscriptions as print ads shrivel and digital ad spending consolidates with Facebook and Google, which together this year will garner more than 60% of the $83bn market, according to EMarketer.

In response, both digital platforms, which have rocky relationships with publishers, are introducing products catered to them. Facebook said last month it was working to add subscription tools inside its Instant Articles program, which hosts news articles in its mobile app.

Google’s version, called Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP, enables news