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Google mulls charging for AI-powered search

Google mulls charging for AI-powered search

Search giant Google faces a dilemma. How can it leverage the power of generative artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance its core search product without disrupting the advertising model that fuels its success?

Google is exploring the possibility of offering “premium” search features powered by AI, according to the Financial Times report on April 4 which cites people familiar with the matter. 

The company is considering integrating these AI functionalities into its existing premium subscription services, like Google One, which already offers access to advanced features like the Gemini AI assistant.

For decades, Google’s free search engine, funded by targeted advertising, has been the dominant force in online information retrieval. 

This model, generating over half of Google’s total sales in 2023, faces a new challenge: the rise of large language models (LLMs) like OpenAI‘s ChatGPT. These AI-powered chatbots can deliver comprehensive answers to user queries, potentially bypassing the traditional list of links and ads that Google serves.

Balancing benefits and risks

This potential move towards a layered search system presents both advantages and drawbacks. 

On the one hand, paying users could potentially enjoy more insightful search results, enriched with AI-powered summaries and analyses. This could lead to a more efficient and satisfying search experience.

However, concerns linger about the broader impact on the internet landscape. If AI-powered search delivers complete answers, users might be less inclined to click through to advertiser websites, potentially impacting Google’s ad revenue stream.

Moreover, many online publishers depend on traffic generated by Google search. If Google’s AI directly extracts information from webpages and presents it to users, it could result in a decrease in website visits for publishers, affecting their revenue streams.

Google’s financial might

Financially, Google parent company Alphabet, remains a powerhouse. With a valuation exceeding $1.6 trillion as of 2023, Alphabet boasts a diversified revenue stream stemming from its various ventures beyond just search. 

In 2023 alone, the conglomerate reported a staggering $305.6 billion in revenue, underscoring its financial strength and commitment to innovation. 

Google’s financial strength empowers it to invest in AI development and explore new search experiences, even if they have the potential to disrupt its traditional advertising model.

Experimentation and uncertainty

Google has yet to decide on the exact implementation of its AI-powered search offering.

While the prospect of a completely ad-free premium search seems improbable, Google may introduce tiered subscription plans with different levels of AI integration.

Moreover, certain aspects of the experimental “Search Generative Experience” could potentially be incorporated into the free search engine over time.

The upcoming months will play a crucial role for Google as it navigates through this unfamiliar territory.

The company needs to figure out how to embrace AI innovation while also protecting its core advertising model and promoting an advanced online ecosystem for publishers and users.

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