In prehistoric times, newspaper publishers had two distribution options: home delivery and single copy. In the ‘90s, you might have added bulk to pump up your paid circulation: Print the papers, bundle them, and put them on trucks. That’s what distribution consisted of.

Now, when news media companies talk about distribution, they are usually talking about digital. Do you publish your content behind a paywall or a pay meter, or do you make it open to the world? Do you distribute via Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn?

In the last year, these distribution questions have become even more complicated.

Facebook Instant Articles

If you are on Facebook (admit it, you are), then you’ve likely seen Instant Articles in your news feed. “Instant” allows readers to open articles lickety-split. These stories are identified by a tiny lightning bolt in the top right corner of the graphic.

Instant Articles on Facebook load fast, but readers don't ever reach your Web site.
Instant Articles on Facebook load fast, but readers don't ever reach your Web site.

Whereas publishers used to fret whether to offer a link to their articles for free on Facebook, the question becomes even more pointed with Instant. If you publish via Instant, your articles will load instantly, but your readers will not visit your Web page.

This has its advantages. For one, the reader experience is exceptional. Articles load (almost) instantaneously, hence the name. A second window does not open. The content resides directly on Facebook servers so there is nothing to slow you down.

Facebook reports that the user experience is so much better that readers are 70% less likely to abandon a story, and they are consuming 20% more.

Most importantly, publishers get access to Facebook’s mammoth audience — more than one billion daily active users, and growing.

With Instant Articles, publishers can tap into the increasing number of users on Facebook.
With Instant Articles, publishers can tap into the increasing number of users on Facebook.

What’s the downside? Readers do not visit your Web site, and there is little customer data that you can collect. You are sharing ad revenue with Facebook.

And, of course, if you are pursuing a consumer paid-content strategy — paywall or pay meter — these Instant views will be exempt. In other words, there is no way to make a reader pay you for using Instant. It is purely an advertising play.

Even so, you can choose what goes on Instant and what does not. It is not all or nothing.

Expect to see more publishers using it. On April 12, Facebook announced the programme is now open to all publishers.

Snapchat Discover

Practically any publisher can use Facebook Instant Articles. There are no barriers. Not so with Snapchat Discover.

Snapchat Discover has exclusive partnerships with only a handful of publishers.
Snapchat Discover has exclusive partnerships with only a handful of publishers.

If you’ve been under a rock for the past 12 months, you may not know that Snapchat is the latest mobile app to take the world by storm. Snapchat is incredibly popular with the under-30 crowd. Besides its social media component, Snapchat also delivers partner content though the service called Discover.

If you haven’t seen Snapchat Discover, ask any teen to show you. Right now there are about 20 publishers available via Discover. They publish new daily content that can only be viewed within the Snapchat app.

Today on Snapchat Discover you’ll find some traditional publishers like Daily Mail, CNN, and People magazine. Even National Geographic is a partner. Less traditional are Vice, BuzzFeed, and Refinery29.

The Snapchat Discover experience is excellent. It is video-rich and the stories are short and to the point. The content is almost always light — celebrity news dominates — yet the format is captivating. You can very quickly see why it appeals to a generation raised on mobile.

How do content partners make money? Snapchat sells ad takeovers and shares the revenue with the partners. It’s really hard to find information on how much is being shared. Nevertheless, publishers agree that this is a way to reach an audience they would otherwise miss. 

Unlike Facebook Instant Articles, where everyone is welcome, Snapchat Discover is a very exclusive club.  Don’t expect to see it open up like Facebook anytime soon.

The list is growing

And it’s not only Instant and Discover. Google has introduced a new fast-loading content format called Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). Google hosts the articles on its servers and gives search results preferable treatment. Publishers give up control in order to access the larger audience.

This trend is going to continue.

As a creator of content, be prepared to answer tough strategic questions about your digital distribution. What is a large audience worth to you? And how much control are you willing to give up?

The days of simply choosing a mix of single copy and home delivery are long gone.