Facebook’s Instant Articles
might not be all its cracked up to be.
which was launched roughly two years ago, is hitting a rough patch as publishers can’t quite figure out how to
The New York Times
has reportedly pulled out of publishing through the platform, and other
publishers have decreased their reliance on it.
The announcement is significant because The Times was one of the
first organizations to test Facebook’s beta version of the feature. Another
major publisher, Hearst, has also pulled out of using the tool.
reported that The Times “stopped using Instant Articles after a test last
fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better
than Instant Articles.” Pushing users to the native site also helped to
drive more subscriptions, reps said. Hearst also cited lack of monetization
for its reasoning in leaving.
Facebook promised publishers faster load times for their stories. They
delivered, with several third-party studies showing that content via
Instant Articles loaded faster than going to a publisher’s site.
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However, the feature was also supposed to give publishers 100 percent of
the revenue from ads they brought in, while giving Facebook 30 percent of
the revenue from ads that it brought in. Shortly after it was launched,
Facebook adjusted its algorithm to focus more on video and posts from
friends and family.
The problem with publishing on a third-party platform ultimately came down
to which type of view was more valuable: one on the publisher’s site, or
one via Instant Articles? In an excellent overview of the tool’s troubles,
the issue perfectly:
In a presentation at the Social Media Week conference in February, The Verge's audience engagement editor, Helen Havlak, presented a
slide comparing views of traditional Verge links posted to
Facebook to Verge Instant Articles as a percentage of overall
Facebook traffic. It showed that article views from Facebook were
essentially flat in 2016, with Instant Articles representing a larger share
of that traffic over time. Viewed in this light, Instant Articles had
simply replaced one kind of view with another, less profitable one.
Perhaps also realizing this, Vice News, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune have also
jumped ship. Some organizations are still publishing a handful of content
through Instant Articles, including CNN, the New York Daily News
and The Wall Street Journal.
Publishers have also taken note of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages
feature and Apple News’ new notifications, which alert iPhone users to
breaking and interesting news features.
Facebook’s vice president of product, Fidji Simo, told The Verge
that the company is still working to improve Instant Articles:
We’re listening to the feedback and we’re continuing to iterate. All of
these publishers are very open to coming back to the table once we
implement a lot of their feedback.