The Wall Street Journal and parent company News Corp is holding talks with Facebook to offer its articles via a subscription model on the social networking platform, reports Bloomberg. However, it’s not clear what the subscription model will look like: if all WSJ articles will be made available, or will it be restricted to special packages for business news, sports news, etc.
The subscription model, if it materializes, will be great news for not just publishers, who are struggling to get a bite of the online advertising pie dominated by Google and Facebook, but also for Facebook’s content hosting and monetization platform Instant Articles. Then there is the matter of Facebook’s expected stagnation in ad growth by mid-2017, as confirmed by CFO David Wehner who said that Facebook has maxed out how many ads it can squeeze into people’s news feeds. Which is why Facebook is now looking to aggressively push ads on its other properties and monetize them instead. Mobile ad revenue accounted for 85% of Facebook’s total ad revenue for the quarter ended March 31, 2017.
Unlike The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and BBC News among others, The Wall Street Journal only offered a limited number of articles for Facebook’s Instant Articles platform, when it was launched in May 2015, and didn’t sign up for Facebook’s live videos platform either.
Publishers’ experience of Instant Articles has demonstrated that it doesn’t really create an additional source of revenue, and neither does it not take away audience from a publisher. The Washington Post’s executive director for emerging news products, Cory Haik had earlier told WSJ that the publisher had witnessed a drop in mobile traffic to its website because of Instant Articles, and that the decline had been directly offset by the number of people consuming its content via Instant Articles. Unhappy with the monetization plans, more and more news organizations are opting out of Instant Articles.
Shashi adds: In an earlier interview with Raju Narisetti, News Corp’s former senior vice president for growth and strategy, he had mentioned that News Corp was in “no rush to give away our content for free” to Instant Articles.
“My view on Facebook Instant Articles is that it makes sense for advertising-only, free content providers to consider it. For those of us who have subscription models, we are yet to see Facebook, or for that matter Apple, tell us how they will kind of help us support our existing models before we put our content out there,” Narisetti had added.
He was also critical of ad revenue split with Facebook: “If you sell ads on your own, you get to keep 100% and if you want Facebook to sell ads, there’s a revenue split. I think all of the terms are pretty clear. But none of those terms address subscription models. So we want to make sure we don’t do anything that fundamentally goes against our business model. Our belief is that free social media platforms that do not produce any content, their business models need to work for us, we don’t need to work for that.”
Tweaking monetizing options
Instant Articles was opened up to all publishers, in February last year, almost a year after its launch. At the time, the company said that publishers will have full control over the “look of their stories, data and ads,” and they will be able to bring ads they sold directly and keep 100% of the revenue, track data on ads through existing ad measurement systems, or monetise through the Facebook Audience Network. It’s worth noting that when Instant Articles was first launched, publishers could allow Facebook to sell ads and Facebook would keep 30% of the revenue generated.
The social networking major has constantly been exploring and tweaking monetization options for Instant Articles. In December 2015, it started allowing media companies to place one ad for every 350 words, as opposed to the previous one ad per 500 words, and also created a tool to automate the placement of ads to ensure maximum ‘ad load’ for every 350 words. Facebook also removed certain restrictions, allowing publishers to pitch Instant Articles ads to marketers at a premium. At the time, the company claimed that 300 publishers had enrolled for its program globally, including the dozen unnamed new publishers added in September 2015 and the five Indian publishers added in November 2015, and that 100 publishers were using it daily to distribute content.