Here’s another way that AI will reduce ad income for publishers – and what they can do about it

New ways in which the latest AI technology can be applied are popping up all the time. Here’s an interesting example discussed by Ben Werdmuller on his blog, It concerns the proprietary browser Arc, currently only running on macOS and iOS, but with a Windows version promised for later this year. A new feature on Arc is an AI summary of links. If you press “shift” and hover over a link, the browser will provide a summary of the page the link leads to. As Werdmuller notes, that’s going to be problematic for many Web sites:

If you’re getting an automated summary of an information source, you’re extracting the content without thought for how that source sustains itself. For some, that will be display ads. I don’t really care for ad-driven business models, but they exist, and if a significant number of people suddenly start looking at AI summaries instead of an actual page, ad revenues will drop proportionately. For others, it’ll be donations — and AI summaries don’t have any calls to action to contribute. And some, of course, sit behind a paywall. The AI summaries appear to even summarize content that would otherwise be irretrievable without payment.

Werdmuller offers a number of possible solutions to that issue, including an “inline call to action”:

Browsers could look for markup in the page that indicates a call to action that a user could take — for example to subscribe or to donate. This could be an ad.

I think that’s a good idea, but likely to be of limited use: when you are looking for news or information and this kind of request pops up, it’s only too easy to click it away. The key issue is that many Web sites take a lazy approach to generating revenue. Using surveillance advertising that tracks everything you do on their site and elsewhere, they routinely sell access to aggregated data on the grounds that their ads can then be “personalised”. AI summaries, whether provided by browsers like Arc, or in the form of search engine results, undercut that approach completely.

The solution is for publishers and Web sites to forge closer and more permanent connections with readers and visitors, in a way that makes AI summaries and the invisibility of online ads irrelevant. Creators and their intermediaries need to foster direct support by adopting the true fans approach that has been discussed here on Walled Culture in general many times, and with specific reference to publishers and writers back in April. It’s interesting that even though the application of generative AI technology continues to throw up new problems for creators and companies, the tried and tested true fans idea remains a remarkably resilient solution.

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