After months of intense negotiations between Facebook and publishers such as BuzzFeed, National Geographic, The New York Times, The Atlantic, NBC News, Spiegel Online, Bild, The Guardian and BBC News, the media companies agreed to the deal which will enable them to generate “fast, interactive articles on Facebook.” From now on, some of their stories will appear on the social media giant’s News Feed.
A person with knowledge of the terms told The New York Times that even though the media outlets retain control over which pieces go onto the service, Facebook will have the final word on when it begins running full force.
In its official statement, Facebook said its goal is to make the experience of reading news on mobile devices “faster and richer.” Despite the fact that people generally share plenty of articles on Facebook, they take a median of eight seconds to load. Instant Articles springs from the tech giant’s desire to solve this problem and make the reading experience “as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.” The company led by Mark Zuckerberg claims it has created this project with the purpose of giving publishers “control of their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities.”
However, Facebook’s proposal comes with strings attached: publishers lose valuable consumer data, because when readers click on a certain article, the host site finds out information about them through a set of tracking tools. When media companies accepted its proposal, it also meant the data they generally amass to identify readers’ preferences would go to Facebook.
The media outlets can choose between selling and embedding advertisements in the articles, which enables them to keep all of the revenue, and allowing the tech giant to sell ads, which means Facebook is receiving 30 per cent of the proceeds. According to Vivian Schiller, advisor to tech and media companies, publishers have little choice but to cooperate with the social media giant, because “that’s where the audience is,” The New York Times noted.
Although there are only nine media organisations that are initially participating in the project, Facebook expects to add more publishers to Instant Articles and expand it beyond the iPhone version. Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard told the American newspaper that the social networking service could respond to some suggestions that it could include local news outlets in the future. The risk of co-opting more media outlets would be if Facebook’s ad technology became more appealing to advertisers than purchasing through publications. Plus, one cannot tell if the social media giant will treat all media organisations equally, because those with more favourable revenue splits may get priority.
In October last year, The New York Times interviewed Greg Marra, Product Manager at Facebook, who emphasized the company does not want “to have editorial judgment over the content” in people’s News Feed. The American newspaper wrote over half a year ago that the Washington Post was flirting with the idea of delivering different versions of its journalism to different people, based on information about which device readers are on, how they have come to an article and which way they are holding it [if they consume the news on mobile].
Robert Cottrell, editor of The Browser, skims roughly 1,000 articles per day and publishes only five or six that he finds interesting for about 7,000 subscribers, because he wants “to offer a few pieces each day we think are both enjoyable and of lasting value,” The New York Times noted. Therefore, it is safe to say media outlets have started to broaden their digital horizons long before Facebook’s Instant Articles. The only difference is that Facebook is now at the helm of a project which promises to create “a personalized newspaper,” as Marra called it.