When Facebook launched Instant Articles in May 2015 a number of major publishers including the NY Times, the Guardian and National Geographic jumped on board.
Reminder: Instant Articles means publishers publish content directly on Facebook (hence the content is controlled and effectively owned by Facebook) as opposed to linking to an article from Facebook. When you are a media company this is not an insignificant subtly: your crown jewels (ie your content/media IP) are being handed to Facebook in exchange for a share of revenue.
The dilemma is obvious. Facebook has the audience. Almost a billion people log in daily and close to 1.5 billion log in monthly. Publishers are left with an almost impossible choice – hold their IP on owned media with dwindling audiences (and thus revenue bases) or deal with the new kid on the block who controls the largest audience. I argued previously that publishing directly on Facebook would likely be revenue lucrative in the short term, but was strategically risky in the long term. As a media company, once you lose control of your content and the direct relationship with the audience, you no longer control your own destiny. In this case, Facebook does. Algorithm and all – they will decide who sees what content (and of course can re-negotiate revenue shares etc). It’s their house and their audience. They make the rules.
Thus it was with some surprise to see the announcement from the Washington Post that it will post all of its content on Facebook. 100%. Thats as “all in” as you can get; circa 1200 articles a day.
The upsides to the Washington Post are obvious. Distribution of its content to the largest audience there is. Access to a digital demographic it may normally not reach, in particular on mobile. Facebook dominates mobile usage (and hence mobile ad dollars). Assuming (as reported) the Post will get 70% of ads sold against its content, this is likely to be highly lucrative in the short term.
Long term, the jury is out as to what this could mean. Can Facebook change the rules, tweak the algorithm, determine what content is seen by whom? Of course. Will it? Noone knows, but its track record in this area is not unblemished.
It’s an indicator of the seismic shift that social media has had on the media landscape, that a newspaper as rich in history and as well regarded as the Washington Post is willing to make that bet, and put a large element of its future prosperity in the hands of Facebook.
It will be interesting to see if other major publishers follow suit.