If you can’t beat ’em…
As several large media outlets, including The New York Times and National Geographic, participate in Facebook’s efforts to dominate online publishing, readers can expect some of the publishers’ most interactive stories to appear directly on the social networking site.
Facebook’s new “Instant Articles” initiative, launched Wednesday, will allow the publishers to post stories and video directly on Facebook’s News Feed on its iPhone app, using what the tech giant says are its tools that will bring stories “to life in new ways.” Publishers will be able to publish the Facebook-posted stories on their sites, as well.
News publishers have had precarious but potentially rewarding relationships with Facebook. Facebook is the most dominant social media referral engine, boosting publishers’ traffic while lessening the importance of their front pages. And their new agreement represents the publishers’ willingness to further study their deepening ties and ways to generate more revenue worldwide.
“This gives Facebook an extraordinary amount of power, as much as any platform company could have,” says Rich Hanley, professor of journalism and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. “This is a fundamental shift toward mobile for media companies.”
Facebook has 1.4 billion users per month, and 83% of them come from outside the U.S. and Canada, according to the company. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 30% of Americans already get their news from Facebook.
“Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook,” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox in a company blog. “Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.”
Others participating are BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel Online and Bild.
Readers can zoom in and tilt photos, and video will play automatically as readers scroll, a feature that may not be universally appealing for those on limited data plans. Publishers will also have access to software features for interactive maps and audio captions.
Facebook says directly posted stories will load faster, adding about eight seconds to load a story on mobile Web.
Publishers get to keep the sales of advertising they create and sell for the stories. But Facebook will get a 30% cut if publishers choose to use the company’s advertising sales technology, called Audience Network, says The New York Times.
“We’re participating in Instant Articles to explore ways of growing the number of Times users on Facebook, improving their experience of our journalism and deepening their engagement,” Mark Thompson, CEO OF The New York Times Co. said in a statement posted on Facebook’s blog.
Declan Moore, National Geographic’s chief media officer, said the organization was embracing the new publishing venue, similar to its expansion into TV and cable. But it plans to retain its own advertising packages and use them to woo Facebook users to join the National Geographic Society or buy its books, he said.
“We’re all wrestling with consumers spending more time on mobile devise, and we’re all wresting with how do we create the best experience on those devices,” Moore said. “You feel like you’re on the frontier of new media developments, and then the next week something new comes along.”
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