Why are news publishers concerned about AI-powered Google search?

(CNN) — Artificial intelligence (AI) doomsday appears to be about to strike midnight for publishers.

Google announced Tuesday that it will integrate Gemini, its powerful artificial intelligence model, into its ubiquitous search engine, taking advantage of the technology’s rapid development to directly answer user queries at the top of results pages. “Google will search for you,” the company explained. In other words, soon users will no longer have to click on links that appear in search results to find the information they need.

This may seem convenient on the surface, but for news publishers, many of whom are already suffering from plummeting traffic, the revamped search will likely lead to an even greater decline in viewership, which could cost them readers and revenue. Why waste time clicking on a link when Google has already crawled the Internet and collected relevant information using its artificial intelligence?

Gemini artificial intelligence on the phone on March 18, 2024 in New York.  The renewed search for such artificial intelligence could lead to an even further reduction in media audiences.  (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Gemini artificial intelligence on the phone on March 18, 2024 in New York. The renewed search for such artificial intelligence could lead to an even further reduction in media audiences. (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

“Google will do all the work,” the executives said. But much of this work, of course, is human-written articles and ideas published on blogs and media outlets all over the Internet, all supported by advertising.

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

“This will be disastrous for our traffic as Google pushes it to satisfy even more user queries, leaving even less incentive to click so we can monetize our content,” Danielle Coffey, executive director of the News/Media Alliance, told CNN bluntly.

Coffey, whose organization represents more than 2,000 news publishers and has taken an aggressive stance against the use of journalism by artificial intelligence developers, added: “What little traffic we get today will decline further, and with the dominant search engine consolidating its market power, we again you will have to comply with its terms. This time with a product that directly competes with our content, using our content to fuel it. This is a perverse approach to “innovation.”

Google’s announcement, which newsrooms have already been anticipating and about which they have expressed concern in public and private forums in recent months, is set to further hit an industry that has suffered a series of brutal blows – mostly at the hands of Big Tech – in recent years. In addition, OpenAI is preparing to launch its own search engine based on artificial intelligence.

Ever since ChatGPT burst onto the scene over a year ago, showing the public the potential power of artificial intelligence and starting an arms race with Google, Meta and others, publishers have been very concerned about the impact this technology will ultimately have on their business. But they had little time to plan their response to this transformative technology, given the breakneck pace of its development.

Some newsrooms have chosen to cautiously ally themselves with tech giants, striking deals with OpenAI to license their deep archives of content. Others have taken a completely different route, such as the New York Times, which filed a major lawsuit against the creator of ChatGPT.

While publishers once worked closely with big tech companies (remember those days?), their relationship has deteriorated in recent years. Mark Zuckerberg has publicly turned his back on the journalism industry, prioritizing news articles on his platforms and shutting down other initiatives his company once championed. Google has maintained better relationships with publishers, but has also faced harsh criticism. It recently came under fire after it temporarily blocked some California media from accessing search results in response to a bill that would force it to pay publishers.

On Tuesday, perhaps anticipating the panic the announcement would cause, Google said changes to artificial intelligence would actually benefit news companies. Google told CNN that it is showing more links using its AI Reviews feature and that improving its search product will allow the company to send more traffic to web publishers.

“We see that links included in AI reviews receive more clicks than if the page were displayed as a traditional web listing for that query,” Google said in its announcement. “As we expand this experience, we will continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators.”

But given Silicon Valley’s history with publishers, this announcement is unlikely to bring them much relief. And there is already skepticism about Google’s claims.

“Our initial analysis shows that this will significantly reduce search traffic to content creators’ websites, which will have a direct impact on their advertising revenue and, as a result, their livelihood,” said Mark McCollum, chief innovation officer at Raptive . which serves thousands of unique creators and businesses. “This change could jeopardize the future of the open Internet.”

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