Facebook Starts Publishing 'Instant Articles' from NatGeo, NYT, Others
Social networking giant Facebook has started publishing "Instant Articles" from nine news partners, including the New York Times, National Geographic and The Guardian. The new tool will let mobile Facebook users load articles more quickly, as well as view videos, interact with maps and listen to audio captions.
Reports had been circulating for several months that Facebook was negotiating with several news organizations to host their content directly on its site. The company touted the benefit of providing content to readers more quickly, as Facebook users otherwise have to load external Web pages to view outside news articles.
Facebook says publishers who use Instant Articles will be able to either sell via ads in their articles and keep any revenues generated, or use Facebook's Audience Network to monetize advertising campaigns. For now, Instant Articles is being tested with a small group of launch partners, and is available only via Facebook's iPhone app.
'10 Times Faster than Standard Articles'
While Instant Articles clearly benefits Facebook by keeping news-reading users on its own site, the new tool will also help publishers deliver their content to readers more quickly. Although users have already shared plenty of news articles with one another via Facebook, that content takes awhile to load, as it requires linking to external publishers' Web sites.
"(T)hese stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook," Michael Reckhow, Product Manager for Instant Articles and Paper, said on Facebook's news site on Tuesday. "Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile Web articles."
Reckhow added, "We designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities . . . Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools."
User Data Is 'Gold' for Publishers
We reached out to Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, to learn more about what this means for news publishers.
Edmonds said the Instant Articles tool offers something for each group. He added that it's "noteworthy that Facebook for now is (giving) publishers a generous split on ad revenues. Plus they get additional user data, which is gold of sorts."
Facebook said that, going forward, it will leave participation in Instant Articles optional for news publishers.
"Standard article links will remain accessible from Facebook via the standard mobile browser for publishers that decline to participate," the company said in its FAQ. "Our expectation is that people on Facebook will appreciate the enhanced accessibility of Instant Articles content, while publishers will see greater engagement for their content as a result."
Edmonds noted, "The importance of Facebook sending traffic to news sites is simply a reality to be dealt with. So I think the pressure to publish directly certainly needs to be explored."
At the same time, however, stand-alone news sites are not going anywhere, Edmonds added. "A meaningful share of audience prefers them."
In addition to the New York Times, National Geographic and The Guardian, the other launch partners for Instant Articles are Buzzfeed, NBC News, The Atlantic, BBC News, Der Spiegel and Bild. The New York Times this week also announced that it would be making its app, NYT Now, free as opposed to charging users $8 per month.