By Adam Fraser
Facebook recently announced an important change by opening up its Instant Articles publishing platform to all publishers.
Instant articles are content published directly on the Facebook site as opposed to linking to the same story on an owned media asset outside of Facebook. The nuance may seem subtle but is very important. By using Instant Articles, the publishers’ IP rests within Facebook’s walled garden and thus under its control. Facebook is understandably trying to keep its users within the platform (more attention for longer time = more ad dollars). Publishers want the eyeballs but sacrifice control of their media assets and lose direct control of the audience. Users get a faster loading experience from a mobile device and some added functionality.
Instant articles was launched in May 2015 to a test group of 9 major publishers. The platform had since been expanded to a few hundred publishers but the current announcement opened the doors to anyone and everyone from April 2016. A one man blog will now have the same access as the NY Times, Guardian and Discovery Channel. Commercially, publishers can sell their own ads or take a revenue share (30% to Facebook) by allowing Facebook to sell ads via its Facebook Audience Network. With 1.6 billion users, publishers of all sizes (but especially smaller publishers who cannot monetise via their own platform) will be incredibly tempted by this offer.
As LinkedIn did with its publishing platform (initial test with major influencers, then rolled out to anyone), Facebook tested the ground with high profile media entities before eventually opening up the platform to anyone.
With the floodgates opened it will be interesting to see how Facebook attempt to maintain quality control over the type of content being uploaded – will we see quality, original work or lots of cut and paste copycat content already published elsewhere? Will we now see the same article on LinkedIn, Medium AND Facebook Instant Articles?
For publishers of all sizes, the issue remains balancing the need for short term eyeballs and income whilst maintaining owned media assets which house your IP and over which you have complete control. The rented land is getting easier to access and is available on ever more-tempting terms, but introducing a middle man and losing control of your IP and audience comes at an inevitable cost to the risk/return trade off of your long term media and marketing strategy.