Google considering paywall for AI-powered premium search



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Google is considering introducing a paywall for some generative AI search features, according to internal sources.

Google is considering charging for new “premium” features of its search engine powered by generative AI, the Financial Times reports, citing three anonymous sources. This would be a significant change to its business model, and the first time in the company’s history that core products have been offered behind a paywall.

According to the report, the traditional search engine would remain free, and subscribers would continue to see ads alongside search results. The new AI-powered search features could, for example, be integrated into the premium subscriptions that already offer access to the new Gemini AI assistant in Gmail and Docs. No word yet on if or when Google will launch this service.

Google remains market leader under pressure

Since the launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI in November 2022 and the resulting rise in popularity of the chatbot, Google has been under pressure as ChatGPT could make traditional search engines and the associated advertising revenue redundant. OpenAI is also thinking about alternatives to traditional search. Microsoft has already introduced improved GPT-powered search and a chatbot in its Bing search engine – but this has had little impact on market share. Perplexity, on the other hand, is focusing on generative AI from the ground up and the startup also now wants to introduce advertising. Google’s revenue from search queries and related advertising amounted to $175 billion last year, more than half of its total revenue.

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In response to the new development, Google has been testing AI-generated answers for almost a year with the Search Generative Experience (SGE). However, Google has so far avoided integrating these features into its main search engine. One reason is that providing these AI-generated results is more expensive for Google than providing traditional answers because generative AI consumes more computing resources.

In addition, Google’s advertising business could suffer if the search engine provides complete AI-generated answers that eliminate the need to click on advertisers’ ad pages. Google told the FT that it plans to continue its subscription offerings through Google and develop new premium features, but has no concrete announcements to make at this time.

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