- Facebook said its tests of subscription sales within news publishers' Instant Articles have so far yielded promising results. People who saw subscription offers from publishers in Instant Articles were 17% more likely to subscribe than those who saw publishers' standard mobile web links, according to a company blog post.
- Instant Articles lets publishers host content directly on the social network instead of their own websites. Publishers can run promotions and set the number of free articles that Facebook users see before they reach a subscription paywall.
- The Washington Post, Tribune Interactive and Hearst Newspapers participated in an early test of the new service. The social network will expand the test to publishers in Latin America in the coming weeks and will eventually roll out to all publishers.
Facebook's test of subscription sales shows encouraging signs for publishers that have had difficulty monetizing their presence on the social network. Publisher strategies have included efforts to drive traffic to their own ad-supported websites, earning money from mid-roll ad breaks in videos or sharing revenue from ads on the platform. But the animus of the publishing industry toward Facebook can hardly be understated, given the company's ability to cut off traffic to their content with changes to its algorithms. The improvements to Instant Articles come as publishers seek digital subscription revenue as tech giants like Facebook and Google dominate digital advertising.
Facebook's uneasy relationship with professional content producers may be rooted in the company's history of relying on user-generated content that people provide for free. But as Facebook develops more ways to keep people engaged on its platform, professionally produced news and entertainment becomes a bigger part of its value proposition to users. The subscription test is Facebook's way of showing that the company is taking note of publisher demands.
The new tools may ease concerns among publishers that have cut back usage of Instant Articles in recent months because of difficulties in making money from the platform. The Columbia Journalism Review published research in February showing more than half of the publishers that began using Instant Articles at its 2015 launch didn't publish a single article in the format. However, Facebook said adoption of the publishing format hasn't declined, with 40% of outbound clicks to news articles in a news feed coming from Instant Articles, per The Wall Street Journal.