Google Considers Charging for AI-Powered Search

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Google is contemplating a significant shift in its business model by considering charging for new “premium” features driven by generative artificial intelligence. This potential revamp of its flagship search engine would represent the first time the tech giant has placed any of its core products behind a paywall, highlighting its ongoing struggle with technology that poses a threat to its advertising business, nearly a year and a half after the introduction of ChatGPT.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Google is exploring various options, including integrating certain AI-powered search features into its premium subscription services. These services already provide access to the Gemini AI assistant in Gmail and Docs. However, while engineers are actively developing the necessary technology, company executives have yet to make a final decision on the launch timing.

Under this proposed model, Google’s traditional search engine would remain free, and advertisements would continue to accompany search results for both subscribers and non-subscribers alike. However, introducing a paywall would mark a significant departure for Google, which has historically offered free consumer services solely supported by advertising revenue.

Despite reporting $175 billion in revenue from search and related ads last year, representing over half of its total sales, Google faces a dilemma in embracing the latest AI innovations while safeguarding its primary profit driver. Since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, Google has been working to address the competitive threat posed by the popular chatbot, which can provide comprehensive answers to queries, potentially undermining the relevance of traditional search engine results and associated ads.

Google began testing an experimental AI-powered search service in May last year, offering more detailed answers to queries alongside traditional search results. However, the integration of these features into its main search engine has been slow. These enhanced search results, powered by generative AI, are more resource-intensive for Google to deliver compared to traditional responses.

While Microsoft has integrated similar AI features into its Bing search engine, they have had minimal impact on Bing’s market share compared to Google. Analysts have cautioned that Google’s ad business could suffer if AI-generated answers reduce the need for users to click through to advertiser websites.

Google has recently introduced a premium tier to its Google One subscription service, offering access to its most advanced Gemini chatbot. It remains unclear how Google plans to integrate AI-powered search into its paid services or when such a feature might be ready for launch. Nevertheless, Google affirmed its commitment to developing premium capabilities and services to enhance its subscription offerings.

However, Google stated that while it was not working on or considering an ad-free search experience, it would continue to innovate in search to meet evolving user needs.