There's an awful lot of buzz surrounding Facebook's Instant Articles program, which has just launched. Many publishers are cautious, and for good reason. Although we typically think of Facebook as a social platform, it's really a news platform. It's an all-encompassing feed of social, local, and world news.
Facebook feeds off the same business model that traditional news organizations do: advertising. They are the fiercest long-term competitor that news organizations have. Getting in bed with Facebook could mean:
- Loss of identity as a publisher and further commoditization of news and advertising
- Loss of closely-held advertising relationships
- Once the majority of a publisher's traffic is from Instant Articles, total dependence on a platform which may not end up being so friendly after all
Of course, Facebook has done a great job of appearing publisher-friendly, promising better user experience and most importantly, revenue. The comparatively hapless news industry may be inclined to try anything that might amend its post-digital financial problems.
But Facebook can be expected to do what is in the best interests of users, advertisers, and ultimately, shareholders, as it's done before (news feed algorithm, anybody?). If Facebook needs or wants to change the deal terms in the future, they will be able to, and news publishers will again have little to no recourse since Facebook is now the gatekeeper for a significant amount of their traffic.
Maybe we're just not seeing the "bright side" at Broadstreet. To put it bluntly, it kind of sounds like the street con where scam artists tie up your fingers and empty your pockets. They say they are going to give you something (like sharing ad revenue), but ultimately end up taking something (like content and advertiser relationships).
Some news industry veterans lament the fact that publishers began giving their content away for free as news started going online. Now look where things are headed: news publishers are giving content directly to their competition for free.