Better paywalls won’t save us from what’s coming

“Users will spend more time with devices without screens. They will get information directly from AI assistants that can summarize information without sending the user to a news website.”

In 2022, emerging technologies will change how users find and consume the news. The confluence of new search algorithms based on natural language models and consumer adoption of wearable devices will challenge the stability of the reader revenue models we’ve worked so hard to build over the past few years.

Whether the coming inflection point represents an existential threat or an opportunity for growth depends on how we, as an industry, respond.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve celebrated the wins news organizations have realized in maturing their subscription and membership strategies. That success was driven by a surge in demand for reliable information in an exceedingly uncertain time and increasingly sophisticated tactics for deploying paywalls and marketing messaging.

But while we’ve focused on optimizing subscription flows, the technological and economic landscape has shifted. Over the summer, researchers at Google published a paper laying out a vision for a new type of search engine. Instead of delivering users a list of links in response to their query, a natural language model would directly summarize information from multiple sources on the Internet.

That aligns with a broader shift in how users are searching for information. More than 40% of internet users around the world say that they use voice search — whether deployed in AI assistants or as a feature in browser-based search engines. That suggests that consumers are getting more comfortable interacting with their devices by speaking commands (and hearing the results).

As we contend with how natural language search interfaces will upend what we know about audience strategy, we also need to prepare for a world where users increasingly consume news on wearable devices.

The evidence tells us that these trends will continue in 2022. Users will spend more time with devices without screens. They will get information directly from AI assistants that can summarize information without sending the user to a news website. The question for us is: What are we going to do about it?

How will we fund our newsrooms if users’ browsing habits change and they don’t hit paywalls as they do today? What’s the value of news if users engage with devices that give them an always-on stream of information? How will the value of our newsgathering change if users spend more time on immersive digital platforms that record their interactions automatically?

In 2022, newsrooms can take the time to think about where there is opportunity to grow in the midst of this uncertainty. Now is the moment to think about what kinds of skills we’ll need in the newsroom and on the business side to stay competitive. There is time to build partnerships, to develop new products, and to reconsider how our journalism creates value.

Yes, news is essential. Yes, our products deliver immense value to the communities they operate in. But news is just one of many services consumers subscribe to. Being essential to democracy is great, but we need to provide a product that people will invest in. Unless we build a future for our organizations, there’s no guarantee we’ll survive.

Sam Guzik leads product strategy for WNYC.

In 2022, emerging technologies will change how users find and consume the news. The confluence of new search algorithms based on natural language models and consumer adoption of wearable devices will challenge the stability of the reader revenue models we’ve worked so hard to build over the past few years.

Whether the coming inflection point represents an existential threat or an opportunity for growth depends on how we, as an industry, respond.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve celebrated the wins news organizations have realized in maturing their subscription and membership strategies. That success was driven by a surge in demand for reliable information in an exceedingly uncertain time and increasingly sophisticated tactics for deploying paywalls and marketing messaging.

But while we’ve focused on optimizing subscription flows, the technological and economic landscape has shifted. Over the summer, researchers at Google published a paper laying out a vision for a new type of search engine. Instead of delivering users a list of links in response to their query, a natural language model would directly summarize information from multiple sources on the Internet.

That aligns with a broader shift in how users are searching for information. More than 40% of internet users around the world say that they use voice search — whether deployed in AI assistants or as a feature in browser-based search engines. That suggests that consumers are getting more comfortable interacting with their devices by speaking commands (and hearing the results).

As we contend with how natural language search interfaces will upend what we know about audience strategy, we also need to prepare for a world where users increasingly consume news on wearable devices.

The evidence tells us that these trends will continue in 2022. Users will spend more time with devices without screens. They will get information directly from AI assistants that can summarize information without sending the user to a news website. The question for us is: What are we going to do about it?

How will we fund our newsrooms if users’ browsing habits change and they don’t hit paywalls as they do today? What’s the value of news if users engage with devices that give them an always-on stream of information? How will the value of our newsgathering change if users spend more time on immersive digital platforms that record their interactions automatically?

In 2022, newsrooms can take the time to think about where there is opportunity to grow in the midst of this uncertainty. Now is the moment to think about what kinds of skills we’ll need in the newsroom and on the business side to stay competitive. There is time to build partnerships, to develop new products, and to reconsider how our journalism creates value.

Yes, news is essential. Yes, our products deliver immense value to the communities they operate in. But news is just one of many services consumers subscribe to. Being essential to democracy is great, but we need to provide a product that people will invest in. Unless we build a future for our organizations, there’s no guarantee we’ll survive.

Sam Guzik leads product strategy for WNYC.

Melody Kramer

Sarah Marshall

Jessica Clark

Christina Shih

Jesse Holcomb

Cindy Royal

Natalia Viana

Gonzalo del Peon

Matt DeRienzo

Paul Cheung

Gabe Schneider

Jennifer Brandel

Brian Moritz

Raney Aronson-Rath

Sarah Stonbely

Victor Pickard

Cristina Tardáguila

Anika Anand

John Davidow

Chase Davis

Parker Molloy

Tamar Charney

Simon Galperin

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Daniel Eilemberg

Zizi Papacharissi

Nikki Usher

Julia Munslow

Errin Haines

Kristen Jeffers

David Skok

Chicas Poderosas

Wilson Liévano

Laxmi Parthasarathy

James Green

Mandy Jenkins

Sam Guzik

Anita Varma

Mike Rispoli

AX Mina

Jennifer Coogan

Tony Baranowski

Don Day

Matt Karolian

Rachel Glickhouse

Larry Ryckman

Stephen Fowler

Amara Aguilar

Catalina Albeanu

Jonas Kaiser

Stefanie Murray

Candace Amos

Julia Angwin

Michael W. Wagner

Ariel Zirulnick

Ståle Grut

Anthony Nadler

Mary Walter-Brown

A.J. Bauer

Kerri Hoffman

Burt Herman

Megan McCarthy

Alice Antheaume

Francesco Zaffarano

Joni Deutsch

Tom Trewinnard

Kristen Muller

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Juleyka Lantigua

Whitney Phillips

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Mario García

j. Siguru Wahutu

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Joanne McNeil

Cherian George

Andrew Freedman

S. Mitra Kalita

Doris Truong

Richard Tofel

Joy Mayer

Meena Thiruvengadam

Izabella Kaminska

Simon Allison

Jim Friedlich

Jody Brannon

Jesenia De Moya Correa

Gordon Crovitz

Moreno Cruz Osório

Joe Amditis

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

David Cohn

Robert Hernandez

Matthew Pressman

Joshua P. Darr

Millie Tran

Janelle Salanga

Christoph Mergerson

Shalabh Upadhyay

Eric Nuzum