The dark AI lord is coming for news publishers

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 16 May 2024
Credit: Flow Clark via Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming for news publishers in the form of a suspected audience killer from Google.

The digital giant is deploying Gemini, its AI, to provide answers, not links, to queries.

And this, according to multiple reports, would mean a sharp fall in referrals via links to news articles from Google search. 

“Our custom Gemini model can take the legwork out of searching,” said Google.

Rather than breaking a complex question into multiple searches, ask and get answers in one go.

Liz Reid, VP, head of Google Search, said  AI Overviews will begin rolling out to everyone in the US, with more countries coming soon.

Reid said AI Overviews means people are visiting a greater diversity of websites for help with more complex questions. 

“And 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,” she said.

“As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators. 

“As always, ads will continue to appear in dedicated slots throughout the page, with clear labelling to distinguish between organic and sponsored results.”

However, news media commentators are worried referral traffic will dry up.

Raptive, a consultancy which helps creators and businesses grow, is “deeply concerned”.

“Our initial analysis suggests it will significantly reduce search traffic to content creators’ websites, directly impacting their ad revenue and, by extension, their livelihoods,” said Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer at Raptive.

“Creators and publishers rely on search traffic to build their brands, engage with audiences, and earn advertising revenue for their work. 

“If AI Overviews doesn’t provide creators with direct links to their content in a way that—at minimum—reflects the structure of traditional search, it will have major implications for quality creator content on the open web. 

“AI Overviews relies on content creators’ intellectual property, which raises serious questions about compensation and fairness.”

Danielle Coffey,  CEO of the News/Media Alliance, representing the news and magazine industries, said AI summaries will be catastrophic. 

‘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,” he said.

“This time with a product that directly competes with our content, using our content to fuel it. This is a perverse twist on ‘innovation.’”

Major news publishers, including News Corp, are currently negotiating with the owners of generative AI platforms to be paid for the use of their content.

In the meantime, Google will tag AI overviews as experimental, for now.

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