Google’s increased efforts to aid news publishers’ subscription and reader revenue initiatives could help keep publishers onside as it transitions its core search product to emphasize AI-driven responses.
Last week, Google unveiled plans to provide AI-generated answers to users’ queries within search results pages. If rolled out widely, the change could significantly reduce the volume of traffic the search giant sends to third-party sites and may prompt publishers to attempt to limit Google’s access to their content if they feel a value exchange is lacking.
It’s clear a shift to AI search results threatens to upend some publishers’ business models, but it remains likely that Google will value ongoing access to publishers’ content to help inform timely, high-quality responses in an increasingly competitive generative AI landscape. Google remains incentivized to ensure publishers are compensated one way or another, therefore, and helping them generate revenue from subscriptions and reader revenue could enable it to maintain visibility into their content.
Long term, that could result in a situation where Google monetizes news publishers’ output via AI-driven search responses while helping them develop and grow paid relationships with their audiences in return.
Google’s growing reader revenue focus
Google has ramped up its efforts to help publishers generate direct reader revenue in recent months through new publisher-focused tools, and training and educational programs funded by its News Initiative.
Although its vast ad technology and marketplace infrastructure continues to power advertising revenue for a large portion of digital publishers, the company has been clear about its belief that reader revenue is a necessary requirement to sustain digital journalism and content production.
“It’s crucial for publishers of all sizes to find ways to grow their reader revenue to ensure a sustainable future,” Google’s VP of News, Richard Gingras, has stated previously. Google did not immediately return a request for comment.
Google is, of course, a giant company with a multitude of departments working towards different goals, with different mandates, and – at times – at cross-purposes. Nonetheless, its focus on helping news publishers’ reader revenue initiatives feels increasingly significant as changes on the search side of its business threaten to disrupt publishers’ businesses.
New technology, tools and programs
Google rolled out a new publisher monetization product called Reader Revenue Manager last month, which it said is designed to help publishers easily paywall their content and charge for access to it on a subscription basis. Although the product is essentially a repackaging of existing “Subscribe with Google” technology, the move to promote it widely to publishers by baking it into its Publisher Center is a notable one.
Google has also hinted at other benefits for publishers that use RRM, including more prominent distribution across its “surfaces”. The product “was designed for publishers to help increase engagement by highlighting their content to readers during contextually relevant moments in Google products,” a tweet by Google’s News Initiative said. RRM publishers also have access to a new Subscribed Content Report in Google’s search console, which the company said is designed to help publishers understand how traffic from Google is translating into subscriber revenue.
In addition to technologies and tools, Google also continues to invest in various training, consulting, and programs designed to help publishers grow their subscription revenues via its News Initiative.
It has contracted the ongoing help of various subscription-focused consultancies including FT Strategies, Mather Economics, and FTI Consulting, and has partnered with global publisher trade associations including the International News Media Association, World Association of News Publishers, LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, among others.
In September Google said it had inked a three-year deal for FT Strategies to help more than 500 publishers in 50 countries develop “sustainable growth strategies,” for example.
Direct deals with publishers
In addition to funding subscription growth programs, Google is also striking deals directly with subscription-based publishers. The exact nature of those arrangements is unclear, but they’re often ostensibly tied to its News Showcase product, content distribution, subscription initiatives and advertising tools.
The New York Times is getting around $100 million from Google over three years, for example, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, WSJ parent News Corp also signed a similar multi-year deal with Google in 2021.
Some observers have characterized those deals as an effort to placate publishers and stave off regulation across the world. But as Google prepares to drastically overhaul its search experience, the specific nature and size of such arrangements will become a focal point for publishers as they evaluate their relationship with Google as it offers its audiences more AI-driven experiences.