News publishers sound alarm on Google’s new AI-infused search, warn of ‘catastrophic’ impacts

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The A.I. doomsday clock appears ready to strike midnight for publishers.

Google on Tuesday announced that it will infuse its ubiquitous search engine with its powerful artificial intelligence model, Gemini, drawing on the rapidly advancing technology to directly answer user queries at the top of results pages. “Google will do the Googling for you,” the company explained. In other words, users will soon no longer have to click on the links displayed in search results to find the information they are seeking.

On its surface that might sound convenient, but for news publishers — many of whom are already struggling with steep traffic declines — the revamped search experience will likely cause an even further decrease in audience, potentially starving them of readers and revenue. Why spend time clicking on a link when Google has already scoured the internet and harvested the relevant information with its A.I.?

“Google will take care of the legwork,” executives said. But a lot of that legwork, of course, comes in the form of human-written articles and expertise published across the internet on blogs and media outlets, all built on a foundation of advertising support.

Google’s message was heard loud and clear. Within hours of the Mountain View announcement, the news industry began sounding the alarm.

“This will be catastrophic to our traffic, as marketed by Google to further satisfy user queries, leaving even less incentive to click through so that we can monetize our content,” Danielle Coffey, the chief executive of the News/Media Alliance, bluntly told CNN.

Coffey, whose organization represents more than 2,000 news publishers and has taken an aggressive posture toward A.I. developers’ use of journalism, added: “The little traffic we get today will be further diminished, and with a dominant search engine that’s cementing its market power, we once again have to adhere to their terms. This time with a product that directly competes with our content, using our content to fuel it. This is a perverse twist on ‘innovation.’”

The announcement from Google, which newsrooms had expected and expressed worry over in both public and private forums in recent months, is poised to further batter an industry that has been dealt a series of brutal blows — much of it at the hands of Big Tech — over the last several years. It also comes as OpenAI reportedly readies to launch its own A.I.-powered search engine.

Since ChatGPT crashed onto the scene more than a year ago, showcasing the potential power of A.I. for the public and setting off an arms race with Google, Meta and others, publishers have worried greatly about the impact the technology will ultimately have on their businesses. But they have had little time to plan their responses to the transformative technology, given the breakneck pace in which it has developed.

Some newsrooms have chosen to cautiously lock arms with the technology giants, striking deals with OpenAI to license their deep archives of content. Others have taken a much different path, with The New York Times most notably filing a scorched Earth lawsuit against the ChatGPT creator.

While publishers once worked hand-in hand with Big Tech companies (remember those days?), their relationships have soured tremendously in recent years. Mark Zuckerberg most publicly turned his back on the news industry, deprioritizing news articles on his platforms and shutting off other initiatives his company once championed. Google has maintained a better relationship with publishers but also faced sharp criticism. Most recently, it drew scorn after temporarily blocking some California news outlets from search results in response to a bill that would force it to pay publishers.

On Tuesday, likely predicting the panic that its announcement would stir, Google argued that the A.I. changes would actually benefit news companies. Google told CNN it is showing more links with its AI Overviews feature and that by improving the search product, it will allow the company to send more traffic to web publishers.

“We see that the links included in AI Overviews get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query,” Google said in its announcement. “As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators.”

But given Silicon Valley’s track record with publishers, it’s unlikely that the statement will give them much relief. And already there is skepticism over Google’s claims.

“Our initial analysis suggests it will significantly reduce search traffic to content creators’ websites, directly impacting their ad revenue and, by extension, their livelihoods,” Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer at Raptive, which provides services to thousands of only creators and businesses, said in a statement. “This change could put the future of the open internet in danger.”

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