Earlier this week Facebook launched Instant Articles on its iOS app. The new feature turns Facebook into a publishing platform that media companies can use to directly present their articles as opposed to hosting articles on their own web pages. This has proven to be controversial while some are saying it’s inevitable.
Instant Articles was born partly to keep Facebook users within the app and partly out of the increasing demand from readers that information is delivered in an instant. Facebook stated in its announcement that typically news articles take an average of eight seconds to load. Apparently that wasn’t quick enough. By publishing through Instant Articles, media companies can get their comprehensive content to the readers much faster on Facebook.
Twitter Web Link vs Facebook Instant Articles pic.twitter.com/Pu4NA6nhv4
— Mike Matas (@mike_matas) May 13, 2015
Editor of Kompas Tekno Wicak Hidayat said that this was inevitable. “This is a step that would have been taken regardless by Facebook or Google, or anyone who could do it first”. For readers, he said, “it’s just another source for news”.
“If readers are becoming used to reading news on Facebook without going elsewhere, and paying no more attention to the origins [of the article], the credibility of the media could shift from the media institution to Facebook itself”, Wicak said.
Facebook however, has stated that the stories published directly on Facebook will retain all the identities and characteristics of the publishing company. Indeed, when a reader opens an Instant Article story from early participating partners such as BuzzFeed, National Geographic, New York Times, The Guardian, or The Atlantic, the typeface, colors, visual style, and other identifying marks remain those of the publisher’s instead of Facebook’s.
“Media requires readers and crowd and Facebook has them. One day the media no longer will have to worry about distribution but focus on the content”, according to Didi Nugrahadi, founder of news websites Beritagar and Detik.
Seems clear that Facebook isn’t interested in becoming a media company in the traditional sense. Similar to how Uber owns no car and Airbnb owns no room, Facebook’s goal remains in being a platform for others to publish and distribute their content and while doing so, share some revenue with the actual publishers.
The articles that have been published through Instant Articles partnership interestingly have been primarily long reads and they each took advantage of the full capabilities of the Facebook application in serving dynamic layout and rich media content. This article about bees on National Geographic for example, is presented as a typical article on the web, but when accessed through NatGeo’s Facebook page on the Facebook app for iPhone, the images move, videos are embedded and automatically played as you scroll, and the experience is much more focused.
The same goes with this BuzzFeed story. Open the link anywhere else and you’ll get the standard BuzzFeed website but when Facebook users on the iPhone click on the story from BuzzFeed’s Facebook page, it’s going to look very different.
Although the distribution channel for these stories is Facebook’s, it will not claim advertising revenue from ads placed within stories unless they’re from Facebook’s own advertising platform. All the readership data, metrics, and statistics, even comScore numbers, will also be made available entirely to the publishers.
For the most part, the relationship between advertisers and publishers may not necessarily be changing, at least not dramatically, as media companies remain as content owners and publishers. Perhaps more importantly, at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the media company apocalypse that some people are worried about.
What does this mean for the future of media? We’ll discuss that in another post.
[header image courtesy of Facebook]