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.

Sam Guzik

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Raney Aronson-Rath

Moreno Cruz Osório

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