By: Vindu Goel & Ravi Somaiya
Facebook’s long-rumoured plan to directly host articles from news organisations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power.
Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses.
The programme will begin with a few articles but is expected to expand quickly. Users of iPhones will see glossy cover videos and photos tagged with map coordinates. Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.
Facebook has gone to unusual lengths to court the publishers participating in the project, some details of which were previously published by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The news publishers can either sell and embed advertisements in the articles, keeping all of the revenue, or allow Facebook to sell ads, with the social network getting 30 per cent of the proceeds. Facebook is also permitting the news companies to collect data about the people reading the articles with the same tools they use to track visitors to their own sites.
For publishers, the Facebook initiative represents the latest in a series of existential balancing acts. The social network, which has more than 1.4 billion active users worldwide, captures more attention of mobile users — and prompts more visits to news sites — than virtually any other service.
Publishers have little choice but to cooperate with Facebook, said Vivian Schiller, a former executive at NBC, The New York Times and Twitter who now advises media companies and brands. “That’s where the audience is,” Schiller said. “It’s too massive to ignore.”