Publishers Horrified at New Google AI Feature That Could Kill What's Left of Journalism

Hydraulic Press

Google is infusing a new AI feature into its flagship search engine — and news publishers are aghast, CNN reports, because it sounds a lot like a death knell for any remaining traffic to media websites.

This new feature, powered by Google's Gemini AI model, will summarize answers to search queries as the top result for many queries, the tech behemoth announced yesterday, calling the feature AI Overviews.

Though links will be included as part of the answers, they appear below the AI-generated summary answer — which seems like it will obviously reduce the number of users who actually click through to read primary sources like newspapers and magazines.

In other words, this has the potential to be an extinction-level event akin to when an asteroid slammed into Mexico 66 million years ago, ending the reign of the journalism dinosaurs.

"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," News/Media Alliance chief executive Danielle Coffey told CNN.

The News/Media Alliance, a trade organization that represents more than 2,200 news publishers, has been advocating for media amidst the AI boom. In 2022, it released a white paper on how Google harms the news industry.

"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," Coffey told CNN. "This time with a product that directly competes with our content, using our content to fuel it. This is a perverse twist on 'innovation.'"

Future Imperfect

For its part, Google claims that people are clicking the links that appear after an AI Overview summary, plus spreading the wealth by clicking a wider variety of websites.

"As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators," Google reassured in their announcement on the tech rollout.

But preliminary studies on Google's use of AI in its search engine has the potential to reduce website traffic by 25 percent, The Associated Press reports.

That could be billions in revenue lost, according to an interview with Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer for content creator consultancy Raptive, who was interviewed by the AP.

"The relationship between Google and publishers has been pretty symbiotic, but enter AI, and what has essentially happened is the Big Tech companies have taken this creative content and used it to train their AI models," McCollum said, summing up the issue. "We are now seeing that being used for their own commercial purposes in what is effectively a transfer of wealth from small, independent businesses to Big Tech."

More on Google's Gemini: Google Blocked Gemini From Generating Images of Humans, But It Still Does Clowns