5 reasons publishers should think twice about Facebook’s tempting offer

Facebook wants your content.

Not in the form of links, teaser videos, or pictures, but the whole story hosted entirely on Facebook. That plan was first made public in fall 2014 by New York Times Journalist David Carr, who passed away way too early. Now Facebook’s intent to host entire news stories is getting clearer and clearer (and has caused some turmoil in the news industry).

The company has good arguments: Facebook has had a tremendous year with lots of mobile progress while most legacy publishers are having a hard time with smartphone content. News apps are often slow, missing video content, and sometimes terrible to use.

So Facebook’s offer is tempting: “We host your content and make it successful on smartphones! Plus, you earn extra money with it.” What an attractive model, given the level of desperation in some parts of our industry.

Before news publishers jump on board, however, they should consider the following:

  1. Yes, we’ve already done that. But this time, it’s different.

    Sure, there have been similar projects, like the Google Play Newsstand or the recent relaunch of Microsoft’s MSN, and a lot of media organisations around the globe are taking part in those experiments. The difference with Facebook’s plan is that, today, Facebook is already the fastest growing (and most important) source of mobile traffic for news publishers.

    Changing the business model there changes the business model of your whole digital news business. You have to be sure that you make enough money on Facebook, because people won’t visit your site and won’t enter your premises anymore – and your existing advertising revenues are connected to people visiting your site.

  2. Facebook wants your customer relationship.

    The news publisher’s relationship with Facebook is best described with a bunch of holiday representatives at a nice hotel pool. They go there every day to entertain the crowd, interact with them, and send the people to your restaurant. Since the hotel is not owned by the reps’ company and they are not affiliated with the hotel in any way, the hotel owners could send the reps away any time.

    Now the time has come that Facebook doesn’t want you to send people away. Facebook is no longer a place where you attract people to consume your content and become your customer. Facebook is now an intermediary between you and the readers that used to be your customers.

  3. You are surrendering yourself to Facebook.

    Mark Zuckerberg is defining who will be able to read your content, and a Facebook presence with hundreds of thousands of “likes” will be free of charge forever. While media outlets are acting less and less as gate keepers, you can welcome a new one: Facebook, the meta-gatekeeper.

    The company is deciding what news, comments, and reporter photos are okay – and what is not. This is more than just an issue of censorship; it’s as simple as how much skin your post about an art exhibition can show. And, even more simply, this equates to how much money you earn and how much data you get about your customer.

  4. It’s too early to ground arms.

    We are in the eighth year after the invention of the iPhone, and maybe less than five years after the mobile breakthrough. The dust hasn’t even settled, and publishers should concentrate on one key performance indicator (KPI): the percentage of mobile revenue.

    Out of your digital revenue, how much is made on mobile platforms? Here at Russmedia, our sales teams worked hard to develop that percentage from 1% two years ago to 17% last month with native ads, sponsorships, and desktop-mobile combinations. Forty-three percent of our visits are coming from mobile; two years ago it was something below 20%.

    Our monetisation is maybe two years behind the usage. I wish we could have achieved that in the ’90s when the Web was born. If you ask me, it’s too early to give up and lay our mobile distribution solely in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg.

  5. Ad-driven people: You are vulnerable!

    As pointed out earlier, Facebook’s land grab changes the ecosystem. Well, only for legacy players who rely on banner ads shown on their Web sites. For the native advertising party, it doesn’t play a role in what platform you choose to consume the content. That’s why BuzzFeed also uploads all of its videos on Facebook.

    So while it might be a good idea to broaden your distribution channels and add non-display revenues to your income, you could ask yourself if it’s a good idea to put everything right now on Facebook.

I understand Facebook wants to be the platform where media outlets distribute their news. But in our neck of the woods, at this point, we are the platform where people interact, where news is taking place.

If that changes, we’ll reconsider, but we will not actively work on weakening our own market position. Will you?

About Gerold Riedmann

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