Facebook plans to put its news behind a paywall with paid news subscriptions
Facebook is keen to stress it’s not a publisher. At every opportunity, Mark Zuckerberg denies his social network is a news site, denies that it’s fuelling an echo chamber, and bemoans claims that it’s a driver of fake news.
The News Alliance in the US disagrees. Last week, the Alliance (which represents almost 2,000 news organisations in the US and Canada) appealed to Congress for the right to negotiate jointly with Google and Facebook claiming they’re forced to “surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritised and monetised”.
To appease these cries, Facebook recently set up the Facebook Journalism Project and now it’s looking at ways to introduce a paywall to push people from the social network back to the sites of the original publishers.
Originally reported by TheStreet, Facebook’s News Partnership Team leader Campbell Brown said her team plans to prompt users to visit the publisher’s homepages as well as launch a subscription-based news service for any articles posted to the site. Initial tests on this service could begin as soon as October.
It will reportedly be built on top of Facebook’s Instant Articles tool, which aggregates articles from publishers based on a reader’s interests and preferences, and will also tie in with Facebook’s Trending news tool.
Instant Articles launched in May 2015 as a mobile content platform designed to keep users penned inside the Facebook app by removing the need to leave the site to read articles. It integrates content from publishers directly onto your newsfeed – cutting loading times and making them easier to access.
By loading natively in Facebook’s app, the articles not only appear faster but should also be more interactive. Under the proposed subscription plans, Facebook’s paywall would kick in after readers have opened ten articles within the app or site. The readers would still be able to read it directly from the original news site (as long as that isn’t also behind a paywall), but they would be restricted from the benefits that come with Instant Articles. It is not clear whether that ten-article limit would reset after a week, a month or would be permanent. Alphr has contacted Facebook for comment and clarification.
Speaking at this week’s Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York City, Brown said: “One of the things we heard in our initial meetings from many newspapers and digital publishers is that ‘we want a subscription product – we want to be able to see a paywall in Facebook’. That is something we’re doing now. We are launching a subscription product.”
Brown is a former NBC News correspondent and CNN host who was brought in to lead Facebook’s news partnerships team in January. The hire was part of Facebook’s Journalism Project set up to offer “deeper collaboration” with news organisations, introduce new platforms for telling stories, develop local news, and train journalists and everyday users on finding and trusting news. This project also includes e-training to help journalists better use Facebook’s products.
This news comes on the same day Google has made updates to its Google app to add more varied news sources and the opportunity to fact-check stories. Its “new feed experience” will make it “easier than ever to discover, explore and stay connected to what matters to you – even when you don’t have a query in mind”.
It builds on the changes made to Google’s feed in December and uses advanced machine-learning algorithms to attempt to anticipate what’s interesting and important to users. It will now show cards with sports highlights, top news, videos, music and stories, for example, and will be based on both your previous Google searches, but also what’s trending in your area and globally. This is similar to what Facebook’s Trending tool offers.
“As the world and your interests change, your feed will continue to grow and evolve along with you,” said Google in a blog post. “You’ll notice that your feed will also reflect your interest level for various topics – for example, if you’re a photography enthusiast but just casually interested in fitness, your feed will show that. But if you see something that isn’t up your alley, unfollowing topics is easy too. Just tap on a given card in your feed or visit your Google app settings.”