By Sarah McArthur
Instant Articles is a new way for publishers to build fast interactive articles on Facebook. It’s been live since May 2015, but has been rolling out gradually. The Facebook news platform allows partner publishers and media companies to publish directly on users’ newsfeeds, instead of pointing users to their main websites.
What this means is that when browsing your feed, you’ll see articles posted by launch partners, such as The New York Times, National Geographic, NBC News, and others. You might also see a share in your feed from a friend who saw the article in their feed. Either way, tap on the post and the article loads instantly without departing the Facebook news platform. Fast and responsive is its main selling point. For the publishers, it’s all about speed and quick access for the user. Publishers are afraid, and maybe rightly so, that readers will bolt if the article takes more than 10 seconds, if that, to load. Instant Articles also offer interaction, scalability, as well as control and customization of content, business model, ad sales and revenue, analytics tools, and brand identity to the publishers.
And, that’s why in a major departure from the rest of the pack, The Washington Post announced this week (9/23/15) that it will post all of its news content on Facebook’s Instant Articles. That’s 1200 stories every day. The Washington Post is the first major publication to commit to publishing all of its stories through the social network.
What does this mean?
It means a solution to lengthy download times and exasperated readers. It means that we of the audience platform won’t have to leave Facebook to read Washington Post articles and soon we’ll be able to stay on the site for many other providers’ news as well. (Remember when you had to go to the corner and pay a dollar for a newspaper? No more of that, you won’t even have to change websites!)
It means more publicity for media companies as their content is on display for the millions (billions?) in Facebooks user base. This could help generate more ad revenue.
It seems a great strategy for Facebook, whose goal is to dominate the online news publishing space. Their competition is Apple News (another Post Partner) and Google and Twitter are working on news services as well.
Is it great for publishers? This is a good question. Most partner publications have chosen to post a limited number of articles on the platform, but not all. Some media outlets have put off fully committing to Instant Articles because to become a full partner requires sharing subscriber information to Facebook that they don’t want to share. Another downside is where in the past (and tentative present), news publications used Facebook to steer traffic to their sites, now readers will be more likely to stay on Facebook. They won’t read the entire newspaper or even an entire section. They won’t see the newspapers’ other offerings, but just the one article if they are lucky enough to catch it as it blazes through their feed. In the case of guinea pig The Washington Post, this strategy could extend its reach across the multitudes or it could be cutting its own throat by severing its direct links to readers.