Saumya Tewari

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?

The tool allows publishers to upload articles just the way photos and videos are uploaded on Facebook. But, will it affect the publisher's website traffic and advertising revenue in the future?

Social networking site Facebook, recently launched the Instant Articles tool for publishers to help them create fast, interactive articles on the platform. Based on a revenue sharing model, the tool which was earlier limited to iOS, has been rolled out on Android devices in India. The move comes in the wake of increased sharing of news articles on mobile apps by users.

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?
Instant Articles introduces a suite of interactive features that allow publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetisation opportunities. Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook's Audience Network to monetise unsold inventory. They will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.

We asked industry experts if the tool will open a new revenue source for publishers, or will it prove to be counterproductive.

Ritu Kapur, co-founder, The Quint

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?
Digital is a fast-moving and evolving medium. The Quint has the benefit of being a new entrant, and hence, has no legacy issues. The whole concept of giving one's content to a third party like Facebook is misplaced because social media is the biggest distribution channel today. At Quint, our social media desk is our distribution desk. It is no longer about advertisers having a different view; it is an inevitable process, and they will eventually have to accept it. It is no longer about readers coming to you or your product, it is about your brand and content travelling, and the brand loyalty being built by being where the audience is. Moreover, being on these platforms helps you understand as a publisher, what kind of content is being shared or read the most.

Although at an initial stage, Instant Articles have three aspects to it. The first is that it is potentially a viable revenue model. The second aspect is that it enhances the content through image enlargement, audio play, etc. It pushes a publisher to innovate in terms of rich media. It pushes advertisers, publishers and analysts, to look at total engagement with the readers. Around 70-80 per cent of our readers use only the mobile phone and comScore is not even mapping them. It is a matter of time when advertisers will consider the engagement a publisher has on any of the social media platforms.

AJ Christopher, national head, marketing, Eenadu Newspaper

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?
Content is content, irrespective of the language. If the news is getting disseminated through a medium, it does not matter to the reader where the news is coming from. As a publisher, if I'm not on Instant Articles, then my brand is not getting connected with the Facebook ecosystem. I would like to be there to reach out to those who spend a lot of time on Facebook and who are Eenadu's potential readers. They will be happy to read the content from a source that they trust.

While I would like to get my content in Facebook's ecosystem, as a publisher, I need to be adequately compensated. Readers come to our platform because of our content which needs a lot of investment. Besides, I do not want a third party to tamper with my content.

Publishers need not worry about their website traffic going down due to Instant Articles, as they can pick and choose stories to be published on Facebook. Readers across platforms read different kind of stories. A Facebook reader might like to read a particular type of story; a serious Eenadu reader will still come to the website to consume content. Facebook, as a platform, will bring higher discoverability to publishers.

Nikhil Pahwa, founder, Medianama

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?
Bait and switch is not something new to Facebook. Platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter focus on building massive fragmentation, to build a mass audience and user base, and become the aggregators of this fragmentation. Once there is sufficient fragmentation in the market, it will be difficult for publishers to exit it, because it remains their key mode of monetisation online. Mass fragmentation means that no single provider (publisher) can reign supreme.

Instant Articles is a service that inserts itself in between the direct relationship between a publisher and a reader; you will have access to the data that Facebook will provide you, but it will always have access to more than you do.

What publishers will be left with is a situation wherein their advertising will have shifted significantly to Facebook, which will take a cut of it and will be in a position to tweak visibility of content and charge for greater visibility - which is exactly what it did with brand pages. Publishers have to sell their own advertising on the platform, of which they pay 30 per cent to Facebook, and they have no control over advertising formats. The sizes are determined by Facebook, and no rich media ads are allowed.

The way Facebook surfaces and ranks, content could change as more publishers come on board, and the news website as a destination for discovery of content will no longer exist. By the time the switch happens, moving out for an individual publisher will mean either losing audience, advertisers, or give their competitors a competitive advantage.

Publishers who have signed up for Instant Articles are either myopic or desperate, or both.

Vinny Ganju, COO, Catch News

Facebook Instant Articles: Boon Or Bane For Publishers?
The digital news content landscape has significantly changed in the last three years due to explosive mobile internet penetration and social media. So has the habit of readers. Earlier, they would visit each of their favourite news destinations. Today, they are used to getting relevant customised information in their mailbox or news feed in real time. Since news consumption pattern has evolved, what it has forced publishers to do is get proactive and be seen on various other platforms and ecosystems where readers spend more time. This approach has led to exponential traffic growth and amplification for publishers, especially from platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Daily Hunt. But, it has also increased their dependencies on these platforms, which leaves them less in control.

There are four key concerns with Instant Articles. The first one is restriction on the publisher to offer web brand experience and news packaging within the Facebook environment. There is no brand connect for the reader within third party platform. Publishers cannot accumulate traffic as seamless as their own URL ARPU (average revenue per user) from Facebook will be lesser than what they can generate by landing readers on their website or mobile site. There is no point for publishers in sharing revenue on their own content.

Instant Article definitely has utility for readers, but many colleagues from the industry consider this as a bane. And, why is that so? Facebook restraints publishers to offer their brand experience and content packaging. Moreover, traffic allocation is not very clear though Facebook and that has given scope to incorporate comScore and other traffic metrics that publishers follow. ARPU will drastically dip as more and more readers continue to experience publisher brand content within Facebook environment with no brand connect and loyalty to the news brand. This was the reason that saw many news publishers pull out from the News Hunt app. Although the app offered a lot of content utility, and hence, drove good readership and engagement, but within their own environment, which resulted in traffic and revenue dip for publishers.

The bottom line is that publishers will have to collaborate and innovate with these platforms to ensure their brand experience and reach, but with a more integrated approach which does not directly impact traffic and revenues, but instead opens up new avenues of advertising and revenue channels.

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