Google is considering introducing paid “premium” features powered by generative AI, a significant shift for its core search business model. This move would mark the first time Google charges for enhancements to its flagship search product, which has been free and ad-supported since its inception.

The tech giant is exploring various options, such as integrating certain AI-powered search capabilities into its premium subscription services like Google One and Workspace. Engineers are developing these AI features, but executives have not finalized plans for launch timing or pricing.

While Google’s traditional web search would remain free and ad-supported, subscribers would gain access to advanced AI-generated search results and capabilities. This paywall introduction represents Google’s struggle to embrace the AI revolution while protecting its $175 billion annual search advertising business from potential disruption.

The viral success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot in late 2022 sparked urgency at Google to deploy its own AI technologies. ChatGPT’s ability to provide comprehensive answers to queries poses a threat to the relevance and advertising model of conventional search engine results pages.

In response, Google began limited testing of an “AI-powered Search Generative Experience” in 2022, offering some users more detailed AI-generated answer summaries alongside web links and ads. However, it has been slow to widely release these costly, resource-intensive AI capabilities.

Analysts caution that if Google’s AI can fully answer queries without requiring clicks to external sites, it could undermine the advertising revenue driven by website traffic. Publishers also worry about losing visitor numbers if AI extracts content from their pages.

While Microsoft’s integration of ChatGPT into Bing has not significantly boosted its tiny search market share, Google aims to navigate AI’s threats and opportunities skillfully. The company states it will continue improving search with AI capabilities, likely through gradual free and paid product enhancements.