Is AI About to Destroy This $120-Billion-a-Year Industry?

In ancient Greece around 620 BC, a slave called Aesop wrote a story about the “Golden Goose.” Over 2,000 years later, this story reveals some truth about the AI world. 

A poor farmer and his wife, after years of hardship, buy a goose hoping it will provide them with eggs to eat and sell. 

To their astonishment, the goose lays golden eggs. Initially overjoyed, they sell these eggs and begin to amass wealth. 

However, their greed grows, and the farmer’s wife suggests that they kill the goose to retrieve all the golden eggs at once, assuming the goose must have a multitude of eggs inside it. 

They follow through with this plan, only to discover the goose has no eggs inside. 

With the goose dead, their source of wealth is gone. They end up poor again, filled with regret over their impulsive and greedy decision to kill the goose. 

So what does the golden goose story have to do with AI?

The Goose and the golden eggs in an online world is the information and content we need for our modern information economy. It is the data wealth of the world in a digital format. 

This is created by online creators of websites, blogs, news sites big and small and the social media micro content creators and publishers. 

To make sense of the scale of this globally, here are 3 important stats about the amount of data being created and consumed.

What’s the point?

The farmer and his wife are Google and Facebook and the other large content aggregators that help us find and make sense of the universe and wealth of information created by all humanity.

For the past few decades, they have been a valuable part of the global web ecosystem. 

And making sense of the firehose of content, needs big tech, small tech and small publishers and creators working together. 

It is a creative collaboration that has worked for decades. And the online creator industry is now estimated to be worth over $120 billion dollars a year.

How Is AI (and Google) Threatening this $120 Billion a Year Creator Industry?  

So, let’s take a quick dive into how AI and search are threatening the 200 million content professional creators and their $120 billion+ industry and impacting the global netizens and where did it all start?

The Web gold rush

When the web launched in the 1990’s there was a gold rush. Golden eggs were slowly being produced. Google started scanning the web and indexing all the websites.

The web platforms that started emerging from the wild west of the web in the 1990’s were platforms like Netscape, Google and YouTube. They provided a global ecosystem that gave creators of content (websites and bloggers) attention and visibility. This was turned into golden eggs (revenue). 

The unspoken agreement

In this emerging ecosystem rose a silent pact. “You provide the content and we will index and link to the websites and blogs and provide you with visibility.”  

You just need to work out how to make money from that.

The emerging platforms made money from advertising next to and around that information, creation, e-commerce portals and creative videos, images and words. It was a new revenue and business model that had never been seen before. 

Google and Facebook arose not as creators but as aggregators and connectors. They collected the “content” (golden eggs) and provided access to it on their platforms for a world that craved information, knowledge and entertainment. This was gold. The content and the collective intelligence of the planet for all to see.

But the Farmer (Google) and his wife (Facebook) seem like they have decided to start starving the goose (the creators) to get all the eggs. Their power, influence and size as the titans of the global web has created power and its greedy offspring. Power and Hubris. 

They are stealing and scraping the content but don’t want to pay. Content rape and media pillage doesn’t help sustain a global village. Slowly, the content creators are becoming invisible. 

The goose isn’t dead yet. But it is slowly starving. And now, to add to the puzzle we have the rise of AI chatbots. 

Open AI and its offspring – ChatGPT – and its competitors. 

What’s AI got to do with all this? 

AI is a $100+ billion threat to search engines. 

The OpenAI ChatGPT chatbot can find the information as fast as a search and adds more value as it is organized and distilled in an overview. With Google making over $175 billion from search advertising and related revenue in 2023, ChatGPT’s AI technology is “huge” threat to these rivers of gold. 

And Google is running scared. 

Just recently Google, in its rush to get AI out, has feverishly been working to integrate AI into its search results. Its new service is titled “AI Overviews” that is featured at the top of search results . It summarizes answers to a search enquiry but you don’t know where the answer came from or which website.

This is what it looks like.

And a recent article on Moz.com revealed some results that were good and others that were both funny and dangerous (especially when it came to health related searches). 

According to an article in the Washington Post, the creator industry and the unspoken agreement is being stretched to breaking point. 

Here is what they revealed:

  • Gartner predicts that web traffic will fall by 25 percent by 2026. 
  • And Raptive (which provides) digital media, and advertising services to about 5,000 websites that traffic could drop by 66% and web creators would lose over $2 billion of revenue per annum.   
  • Jack Boly (who provides online shoe reviews) has seen his traffic drop by 96% due to recent Google algorithm changes.

So AI is starting to produce winners and losers. But the web needs to work for the world. Not just the global titans.

The challenge is that the web is messy and the rules of engagement are being blown up.  

The 4 Web Partners Needed in an AI World

The new and emerging and evolving “AI web” needs to have a collaboration for it to work and this involves 4 types of players. 

  1. The aggregators that allow us to find the content. Google and Facebook are part of that and dominate. They provide visibility for the contributors and content creators.
  2. The content creators that feed the aggregator beasts.  Bloggers. News sites, Websites and Ecommerce online stores.
  3. The consumers and users that feed on the content. The addicted scrollers and viewers. Without the users who click on the ads and are addicted to the streams of content designed for clicking, the mega global search and social media platforms would die. 
  4. The AI chatbots that emerged in November, 2022. ChatGPT. The chatbots are both creators and aggregators. They can write articles collected  from multiple websites, design images and produce videos. It is multimodal. But often without attribution. And there lies a problem. 

The unspoken agreement that has worked since the 1990’s for content contributors and the aggregators to collaborate is starting to fall apart. The unwritten contract between creators and aggregators is creaking at the edges. 

Let’s have a closer look at the 4 partners involved in this game of creating, providing visibility, and making money at a scale the world has never seen. 

#1. Aggregators  

These are the mega platforms of Google, Meta (Facebook) and TikTok and many more. The platforms we go to to find information that entertains, inspires, informs and educates. It is a scroll and a search. 

#2. Professional Creators 

There are also 200 million content creators that write text, create videos and share images online. Often they  live or die depending on the algorithms.  

The numbers

  • The creator economy is estimated at over $120 billion dollars a year
  • The news sites. New York Times and Getty Images and many more.

#3. Consumers  

And there are the consumers of content – The social media scrollers, the online searchers and YouTube watchers.

The numbers

  • There are 5.35 billion people on the web in 2024. That’s all of us.  We are the consumers and users.
  • But the consumers also add their content to the web platforms via social media and sometimes YouTube. 

#4. The AI Chatbots

And now there is the  “prompt”. This is where we go to the Chatbots of ChatGPT and others to find information that gets answers, organizes and distills the content. It also allows the users to “create”.  Text, images and videos.

Data (code for content) is how we provide value on the open web. It is also how we train the new AI robots. They need content and data. And lots of it. 

The large language models (LLMs) are already being challenged in the court by the New York Times and many other large media companies for scraped news content. Getty Images is suing OpenAI for copyright violations i.e. using its images to train the chatbots and producing images and videos with no payment.

Who is suing OpenAI for stealing content (and copyright infringement)?

Currently there are 9 newspapers suing OpenAi for copyright infringement in training its chatbot ChatGPT.

These include, according to The Guardian.

  1. The New York Daily News
  2. The New York Times
  3. Chicago Tribune
  4. Mercury News
  5. Denver Post
  6. Orange County Register
  7. St Paul Pioneer Press
  8. South Florida Sun Sentinel 

Their opening shot across the bows of the AI content scrapers are:

We’ve spent billions of dollars gathering information and reporting news at our publications, and we can’t allow OpenAI and Microsoft to expand the Big Tech playbook of stealing our work to build their own businesses at our expense,” Said a written statement from Frank Pine, executive editor for the MediaNews Group and Tribune Publishing.

Who is being paid?

There are two routes to getting paid as a content creator. Sue or negotiate. Both cost a lot of money and an expensive gang of lawyers. NY Times and Getty Images are amongst the many who are suing. 

The AI aggregators and large language model content scrapers such as OpenAI have started to pay and negotiate with the bigger media players for access for their content

Why? Bbecause they have leverage, deep pockets, lawyers in the hip pockets and  negotiating power. 

Who has negotiated a payment?

And there are many more in that cohort but have not publicized their settlement. 

Who is not being paid?

The small players, who have no power at all. These are the 200 million+ small professional creators. And there are also billions of consumer contributors who add their content everyday for free. 

The winners 

The large aggregators – This includes Google, Facebook and Microsoft’s Bing. 

Large websites, large media such as Reddit, News Corp and Pinterest have struck some deals as large as $250 million, because they have the ability to sue and have leverage 

The losers

These are the small content creators. 

Their fall in traffic has been an existential crisis for many. We are sometimes talking about 90-95% drops in website traffic. They don’t have any negotiating power. 

Maybe it is time for a global class action by the small web creators to take on the illegal use and abuse of content aggregation monsters and monopolists. 

Greed

In an opinion piece on futurism.com, a Google strategist (who quit recently) slammed the company’s AI work as motivated by fear and greed.  

Slowly but surely the search algorithms and AI chatbots are choking the creators. Their motivator was to create content and monetize attention.

Greed for more revenue by the global behemoths is slowly but surely making the content producers invisible. There are no links or attributions in many cases. 

The big players are turning the screws. 

  • Google “Snippets” replace links. (maybe with a link as an afterthought)
  • AI Reviews aggregate information and don’t mention the sources. 
  • One algorithm tweak at a time is destroying the 100 of millions of small website players. 
  • The email list building has gone from easy to impossible. Choked by imperfect algorithms that send many good emails to spam or trash.  

Google seems to want it all. 

So what do we do?

The web has been an experiment that escaped the lab and has produced global companies of a scale we have never seen before. We are no longer talking billions but trillions in market value that exceeds the GDP of many countries. The social contract between the small and the large has worked well for over 30 years.  But cracks are emerging. 

Is Google about to destroy the global ecosystem and village that feeds it with content? Impose a self-inflicted injury? Claim the web’s content as its own?

Because it has the power and money to do that. Will absolute power corrupt absolutely?

Are they stupid enough to think that starving the creators will work over time? Obtain short-term gain and profit but maybe inflict long-term pain? Will the sucker punch turn into a content crunch?

Or is this a race where no one wins? Where the small and medium creators no longer show up?

The big question they are starting to ask is:

Why should they create when that content will inevitably be stolen?

We now need to work out how to make the new AI web work. 

Create new global web business models that serve everyone. 

It needs to be a win/win. 

Is it time for governments to step up and lean in? 

Because the wealth filtering down isn’t working.

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