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Publishers split on Instant Articles

News, 18 May 2015

NEW YORK: Opinion is divided on Facebook's new Instant Articles program, with four US publisher participants opting to handle ad sales themselves and one suggesting they could hand sales over to Facebook at some point.

The arrangement allows publishers to keep 100% of the revenue generated from advertising placed alongside Instant Articles, which are publisher content hosted and served within Facebook, if they sell and serve the ads themselves.


Alternatively, the publishers can leave that job to Facebook, which will then take 30% of revenues for selling the ads through its Audience Network product. 

So far, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic and NBC News have said they are opting for the first route and keeping all ad revenues, Advertising Age reported. "To have a third party sell [our ads] is not part of the strategy," said Greg Coleman, BuzzFeed's president. The Atlantic is keeping an open mind.

But in the Wall Street Journal, reporter Jack Marshall argued that "70 cents on the dollar could be better than a whole dollar" because Facebook would be better at selling these ads than publishers.

Marketers are likely to be more confident buying ads from Facebook, he suggested, thanks to the social media platform's impressive targeting and tracking capabilities. "The rest of the online ad market is playing catch-up," he added.

Ultimately, therefore, publishers face a decision on whether to retain control over their data and accept less revenue or to potentially earn more but become more reliant on Facebook.

Advertising Age also raised the possibility that publishers could choose to use the Instant Articles inventory to distribute content they have created for brands, so effectively sidestepping the "volume and content controls for promotional posts" the social network introduced late last year.

Buzzfeed has already started doing so, while The Atlantic said it was thinking about doing so. Facebook would only say that it was "talking to publishers to learn about their business models and explore how we can make them work in Instant Articles".

Data sourced from Advertising Age, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff