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Google's AI search leaves publishers in a bind| GuyWhoKnowsThings


When Frank Pine searched Google for a link to a news article two months ago, he found AI-generated paragraphs on the topic at the top of his results. To see what he wanted, he had to pass them.

That experience bothered Pine, executive editor of Media News Group and Tribune Publishing, owners of 68 newspapers across the country. Now, those paragraphs scare him.

In May, Google announced that AI-generated summaries, which compile content from news sites and blogs on the searched topic, would be available to everyone in the United States. And that change has Pine and many other publishing executives worried that paragraphs pose a major danger to their fragile business model by dramatically reducing the amount of traffic from Google to their sites.

“This potentially stifles the original creators of the content,” Pine said. The feature, AI Overviews, felt like another step toward generative AI that replaces “the posts that have cannibalized,” she added.

Media executives said in interviews that Google had left them in an awkward position. They want their sites to appear in Google search results, which for some outlets can generate more than half of their traffic. But doing that means Google can use your content in AI overview summaries.

Publishers could also try to protect their content from Google by prohibiting its web crawler from sharing snippets of content from their sites. But then your links would appear without any description, making people less likely to click.

Another alternative – refusing to be indexed by Google and not appearing in its search engine at all – could be fatal for your business, they said.

“We can't do that, at least for now,” said Renn Turiano, chief product officer at Gannett, the country's largest newspaper publisher.

However, AI Overviews, he said, “is very harmful to everyone except Google, but especially to consumers, smaller publishers, and businesses large and small that use search results.”

Google said its search engine continued to send billions of website visits, bringing value to publishers. The company also said it did not show its AI summaries when it was clear that users were searching for news about current events.

Liz Reid, Google's vice president of search, said in an interview before the introduction of AI Overviews that there were hopeful signs for publishers during testing.

“We continue to see that people often click on the AI ​​Overviews links and explore,” he said. “A website that appears in the AI ​​overview actually gets more traffic” than one that just has a traditional blue link.

On Thursday afternoon, Ms. Reid he wrote in a blog post that Google would limit AI overviews to a smaller set of search results after producing some high profile mistakesbut added that the company was still committed to improving the system.

AI-generated summaries are the latest area of ​​tension between tech companies and publishers. The use of articles from news sites has also sparked a legal fight over whether companies such as OpenAI and Google violated copyright law by taking the content without permission to build their AI models.

The New York Times defendant OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, alleged copyright infringement in December for news content related to training and maintaining artificial intelligence systems. Seven newspapers owned by Media News Group and Tribune Publishing, including The Chicago Tribune, filed a similar lawsuit against the same technology companies. OpenAI and Microsoft have denied any wrongdoing.

AI Overviews is Google's latest attempt to catch up to rivals Microsoft and OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, in the AI ​​race.

More than a year ago, Microsoft put generative AI at the center of its search engine, Bing. Google, fearful of messing with its revenue stream, initially took a more cautious approach. But the company announced an aggressive rollout of the AI ​​feature at its annual developer conference in mid-May: By the end of the year, more than a billion people would have access to the technology.

AI overviews combine statements generated from AI models with content snippets from active links on the web. Summaries often contain excerpts from various websites and cite sources, providing complete answers without the user having to click to another page.

Since its debut, the tool has not always been able to differentiate between accurate articles and satirical posts. When he recommended that Users put glue on pizza or eat stones. for a balanced diet, caused a sensation on the Internet.

Publishers said in interviews that it was too early to see a difference in Google traffic since AI Overviews arrived. But the News/Media Alliance, a trade group for 2,000 newspapers, sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission urging the agencies to investigate Google's “misappropriation” of news content and stop the company from implement AI Overviews.

Many publishers said the launch underscored the need to develop direct relationships with readers, including getting more people to sign up for digital subscriptions and visit their sites and apps directly, and rely less on search engines.

Nicholas Thompson, chief executive of The Atlantic, said his magazine was investing more in all areas where it had a direct relationship with readers, such as email newsletters.

Newspapers like The Washington Post and The Texas Tribune have turned to a new marketing company, Subtext, that helps companies connect with subscribers and audiences through text messages.

Mike Donoghue, chief executive of Subtext, said media companies were no longer chasing the biggest audiences, but instead trying to keep their biggest fans engaged. The New York Post, one of its clients, allows readers to exchange text messages with staff sports reporters as an exclusive benefit for subscribers.

Then there is the dispute over copyright. It took an unexpected turn when OpenAI, which took down news sites to create ChatGPT, began closing deals with publishers. It said it would pay companies including The Associated Press, The Atlantic and News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, to access its content. But Google, whose advertising technology helps publishers make money, has not yet signed similar deals. The internet giant has long resisted calls to compensate media companies for their content, arguing that such payments would undermine the nature of the open web.

“You can't opt ​​out of the future, and this is the future,” said Roger Lynch, chief executive of Condé Nast, whose magazines include The New Yorker and Vogue. “I'm not arguing if it will happen or if it should happen, just that it should happen on terms that protect the creators.”

He said search remained “the lifeblood and most of the traffic” for publishers and suggested the solution to their problems could come from Congress. He has asked Washington lawmakers to clarify that using content to train AI is not “fair use” under existing copyright law and requires a licensing fee.

The Atlantic's Thompson, whose publication announced a deal with OpenAI on Wednesday, still wants Google to pay publishers, too. While waiting, he said before the launch of AI Overviews that, despite industry concerns, The Atlantic wanted to be a part of Google's overviews “as much as possible.”

“We know that traffic will decrease as Google makes this transition,” he said, “but I think being part of the new product will help us minimize how much it decreases.”

David McCabe contributed with reports.


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