The digital publishing industry is on the brink of a significant upheaval, with generative AI poised to disrupt the status quo. This transformation could lead to a devastating impact on publishers potentially resulting in substantial layoffs and even threatening the very survival of some.
At 57 years of age, with over three decades of experience in the publishing realm, the author, who has consulted for numerous renowned publishers, sounds a warning bell about the challenges ahead.
The Growing influence of Generative AI
Generative AI, armed with rewriting capabilities, is rapidly gaining prominence within the digital publishing landscape. It has the potential to challenge content integrity and push the boundaries of copyright norms.
A particularly critical development in this context is Google’s decision to reduce traffic to publishers. This move could deal a significant blow to the industry, potentially setting off a downward spiral.
A divide between established and smaller players
Well-established brands with robust front-door traffic, such as Yahoo!, WSJ, NYT, Daily Mail, CNN, WaPo, and Fox News, appear better positioned to weather this storm. They have the advantage of a steady stream of direct traffic, which could help them withstand the challenges posed by generative AI and reduced Google traffic.
In contrast, smaller publishers like Vox Media, Conde Nast, Hearst, Dotdash/Meredith, Arena, and Penske Media may need to consider drastic measures, including reducing their brand portfolios and focusing solely on those with significant front-door traffic.
Shifting priorities and strategies
In a bid to adapt to the transformative power of generative AI, publishers are seeking efficiency in their operations. However, the implementation of these changes is not without its challenges.
To survive in this evolving landscape, smaller publishers may need to outsource non-core operations and place a stronger emphasis on editorial content.
The playbook for publishers in 2024
The path forward for publishers is undoubtedly challenging but clear. Their primary focus should be on obtaining and growing front-door direct traffic, as this is the key to survival in the evolving digital landscape.
They must anticipate a scenario in which Google, the dominant player, may reduce or cease sending traffic their way. To navigate these turbulent waters, publishers should address several critical questions that will shape their strategies:
They need to first assess whether they have a viable business model that can sustain itself if Google were to stop sending traffic their way. This scenario necessitates a proactive approach to secure alternative traffic sources.
Transforming their homepage into a powerful tool for attracting users repeatedly is another imperative. Publishers should explore ways to make their homepage a go-to destination, encouraging users to return frequently.
To enhance user engagement, publishers must devise strategies to entice visitors to explore more pages once they arrive. This involves creating compelling content and user experiences that keep users engaged and clicking.
Furthermore, differentiating desktop and mobile homepages effectively is crucial. Tailoring the user experience to each platform ensures a seamless and engaging encounter for visitors, regardless of their device.
Strategies for publishers in the age of Generative AI
Generative AI holds immense potential, and publishers should consider harnessing this technology to improve their homepage’s performance. Utilizing AI to automate content creation and personalization can help deliver a more engaging and relevant experience.
Community engagement and user comments can play a pivotal role in driving front-door traffic. Fostering a sense of community and encouraging user-generated content can keep users coming back for more.
Creating content that attracts direct traffic is essential. Publishers should identify topics and formats that resonate with their audience, drawing them to the homepage and encouraging return visits.
Publishers might contemplate partnerships or legal actions involving entities like Google, OpenAI, Microsoft, or other large language models (LLMs). These partnerships could secure traffic guarantees or address industry challenges through collaborative efforts or legal means.
Publisher resilience amidst Google’s influence
Looking ahead, the most critical metric for publishers is the ability to maintain and attract direct home page users. As generative AI continues to evolve and in-page summarization advances, Google may continue to play a role in traffic distribution.
However, it may be a tenuous lifeline, and publishers must not rely solely on it. The potential rollout of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) in 2024 is contingent on the actions of competitors like OpenAI, Amazon, and Facebook. Given Google’s dominant search monopoly, it is unlikely to disrupt the status quo unless compelled to do so by external competition.
Despite the looming challenges, there is hope for publishers. To stay relevant and reinvent their business models, publishers must proactively make changes. The primary goal is to draw users to their home pages and encourage them to return frequently. While the road ahead will be tough, it is not insurmountable.
With a strategic focus on front-door traffic and a commitment to adapt to the changing landscape, publishers can navigate the challenges posed by generative AI and Google’s evolving algorithms.