The question of whether Google should pay for news is about to get a lot more complicated. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that news publishers are freaking out over a new search tool powered by artificial intelligence that Google is working on.
The problem is that current Google search protocols drive a lot of traffic to news websites, and that could change. AI-powered search may very well keep users inside Google, thus denying clicks to the originators of the journalism that users are looking for. As an example, here is what The Atlantic believes it’s up against, according to the Journal’s Keach Hagey, Miles Kruppa and Alexandra Bruell:
About 40% of the magazine’s web traffic comes from Google searches, which turn up links that users click on. A task force at the Atlantic modeled what could happen if Google integrated AI into search. It found that 75% of the time, the AI-powered search would likely provide a full answer to a user’s query and the Atlantic’s site would miss out on traffic it otherwise would have gotten.
That 40% figure is typical for news publications. And though Google executives say that they intend to roll out AI search in such a way that journalism will continue to benefit, the Journal story makes it clear that’s nothing more than a vague promise at the moment.
The AI threat comes at a time when much of the media business is pushing for passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which would require that Google and Facebook come to the bargaining table and reach a deal to compensate news organizations for repurposing their content. It’s a dicey proposition — Facebook has been moving away from news, and as the Journal story shows, publishers are dependent on traffic from Google even as they insist that Google ought to pay them.
Just this week, Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times wrote that the NewsGuild-CWA, the union that represents 26,000 employees at a number of news outlets, now supports the JCPA as the result of a possible tweak to the legislation that would be more explicit about protecting jobs. Brier also touted a recent study that claims the two tech giants should be paying news organizations some $12 billion a year.
Despite some bipartisan support for the JCPA, finding agreement within our dysfunctional Congress may prove impossible. And the rise of AI-based search isn’t going to make passage any easier.