The Sinkhole is Opening, Publishers Are the Start


The way we consume information on the internet is undergoing radical change. AI-powered bots and assistants, capable of scraping and synthesizing information from the open web, are shifting how we find answers and learn about the world. While convenient for users, this spells impending doom for businesses built on the old foundation of web traffic.

Digital publishers are simply the first to sound the alarm. News headlines about websites suing AI companies and widespread industry layoffs aren't a recurring complaint against tech – this is an existential threat. It's a warning of what's to come for countless other industries.

Imagine you ask your AI assistant a question. Instead of showing search results, it instantly produces a tailored answer, drawing from multiple websites. You no longer need to click on websites themselves to get what you need. And that disintermediation is the problem. Websites rely on your traffic for advertising revenue. No traffic? No revenue. This isn’t theoretical - Arc Search does this.

If we let this model continue, it becomes economically unfeasible for publishers to keep producing original content. They've already experienced the pain of audience shifts - first to search engine ranking, then social media algorithms. The rise of AI agents might be the final knockout punch.

Websites could try to block these AI tools and play a never-ending cat-and-mouse game to distinguish a bot from a human. But with tools mimicking human behavior perfectly, that fight might already be lost; there are venture-backed web scrapers that guarantee that they cannot be distinguished from human visitors.

It's tempting to see this as just a "publisher problem." But this disruption cuts deeper, like a sinkhole slowly opening up, swallowing industries one at a time. As mainstream users increasingly adopt AI tools, other digital industries face devastation:

User-generated content sites see traffic wither. Need travel tips? No need to visit TripAdvisor. The assistant scrapes and summarizes reviews seamlessly.

Aggregators get bypassed. Ordering food? The question isn't "which app is cheapest," it's just "get me food." Your AI figures it out and there isn’t a need to go to Doordash.

The way we interact with the internet is fundamentally changing. The era of website-centric online business is dying. Publisher’s cries for help aren't pleas to preserve an outdated model; they're a dire warning about the unsustainable future we're heading towards which will bleed into other industries. The focus shouldn't be on playing whack-a-mole with AI; it's about reimagining how the Internet can operate to ensure creative, meaningful content remains valuable.

Written by Olivia Joslin and Josh Mayer