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Facebook 'Instant Articles' Initiative Lures Publishers With Ad Money: What's The Real Bottom Line?

5 May 2015, 5:21 am EDT By Nicole Arce Tech Times
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News publishers are wary about having their news articles hosted directly on Facebook, but the social network is reportedly trying to win media outlets over by offering them, in some cases, 100 percent of the ad revenue generated from these articles.

Details about Facebook's plan to lure over news outlets into its platform were first reported last month by the New York Times, but the Wall Street Journal has obtained more information about the social network's latest initiative to increase engagement and keep users lingering on its website far longer.

Instant Articles is what Facebook reportedly calls the new feature that will have users seeing news articles hosted straight on Facebook's platform, which is said to start rolling out as early as this month, according to the WSJ report. Major news and information outlets such as the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic are believed to be some of the first few publications whose stories Facebook users will start seeing on their timelines soon.

To convince publishers to have Instant Articles published on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg's social media empire is reportedly giving away all the revenue gained from ads sold by publishers. If Facebook itself sells the ads, publishers will still get the lion's share of the revenue, or 70 percent.

However, publishers are not quite keen on handing over full control of their content to Facebook, despite the huge carrot Facebook is dangling in front of their faces. One news outlet executive who was part of the discussions with Facebook told the WSJ that concerns are not just over the publication's bottom line.

"Publishers will still want to defend other aspects of the business," the executive said.

Having Facebook publish their content, or at least part of it, means handing over full control to Facebook over the user experience and the back-end information about readers that publishers have full access to from their own websites. Things like the number of readers, their geographic location, and peak traffic times are important for publishers to be able to tweak their websites to get the most out of their readers.

Moreover, publishers have no control over Facebook's mysterious News Feed algorithm, which is claimed to show only the most relevant and important content to users based on a variety of metrics. Being part of Instant Articles means publishers are subject to the whims of this algorithm, which may or may not choose to show articles to certain users based on what it deems relevant.

Facebook, however, argues that Instant Articles is beneficial to publishers because it gives them access to a wider audience, with a potential of reaching 1.4 billion users worldwide. The social network believes that keeping readers on its platform, instead of allowing them to go out to news websites via links, will be beneficial to its long-term ad revenue, even if publishers get most of the benefits in the short term.

Photo: Robert Scoble | Flickr

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