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Facebook launches independent publishing platform, while its traffic to publishers drops significantly

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The “Bulletin” is out. 

Facebook has just launched its newsletter platform Bulletin, focused on “independent writers who are making a living by connecting directly with their readers.”

In other words, Menlo Park now has its own Substack clone/competitor.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the platform in a live audio room on Facebook, and introduced some of the writers the company has partnered with.

Bulletin is paying its writers up front for their contributions, and as of now, doesn’t plan to take a cut of their profits. If writers choose to move off the platform, they will be able to take their subscriber lists with them.

Bulletin writers are going to keep all of their subscription revenue, we’re not gonna take any [cut]. The goal here is to support millions of people doing creative work.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

This is a shot across the bow of competitors like Substack and Twitter’s Revue, who charge fees in the range of 5-10% of subscription revenue.

Several high-profile writers have left media companies over the past year to strike out on their own, primarily on the Substack platform, and Facebook is pushing to compete in the fast-growing newsletter publishing trend. 

Through Bulletin, we want to support these creators, and unify our existing tools with something that could more directly support great writing and audio content — from podcasts to Live Audio Rooms — all in one place.

Campbell Brown, VP, Global News Partnerships

Featured creators at launch include Malcolm Gladwell, author of five New York Times bestsellers, NFL host Erin Andrews, award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan, best-selling author Mitch Albom, organizational psychologist Adam Grant and a host of other luminaries.

Here’s the current list of writers you’ll find on Bulletin.

Competitors like Substack take a “hands-off” approach to content moderation, allowing anyone to start a newsletter. But every writer currently on Facebook’s Bulletin was hand-picked to contribute.

Amanda Silberling, TechCrunch

During its beta stage, Bulletin has primarily started with US creators, and there are only 2 non-US creators at launch. Facebook says they will take a careful approach to expanding availability to more creators over time, but are not currently accepting new creators.

Bulletin’s publishing and subscription tools will include support for content creation, monetization and audience growth. The company will also offer third-party perks, including legal resources, design support and assistance with financial services.

This long-awaited newsletter platform would have ideally brought Facebook closer to the publishing world, but the company is still maintaining a distance by making it clear that Bulletin is fully focused only on independent writers.

We define “independent creators” as individual journalists or subject matter experts who are not contractually bound to write exclusively for a platform or publisher. 

Facebook Bulletin team

Furthermore, now that Facebook has undoubtedly become a publisher itself—something it has strenuously denied even until very recently—will its interests collide even more with that of the broader publishing community?

Won’t its own publishing platform get a larger share of referral traffic, which would then come at the expense of other publishers?

These questions are no more in the realm of conjecture. The data already shows Facebook has been squeezing the flow of outbound traffic to publishers for the last few weeks.

In recent weeks, several publishers have reported seeing a notable drop in the traffic they receive from Facebook. Chartbeat, the content intelligence platform for publishers, analyzed network-wide traffic from sites in more than 70 countries, and found that the data shows a downward trend in Facebook traffic that began in early May.

Global Facebook traffic has declined significantly,” says Chartbeat’s Jill Nicholson. 

“Since the beginning of May 2021, total traffic driven by Facebook to sites in our network has declined steadily week over week, dropping by more than 18% over a six-week period.”

North American sites were particularly affected, seeing a 21% drop in pageviews. So, many US publishers lost over a fifth of their traffic from Facebook … in just the last few weeks.

Interestingly, right now Bulletin is primarily US-focused. Coincidence?

Facebook traffic in North America dropped from an average of 57.6 million daily pageviews in the first week of May to an average of  45.4 million daily pageviews in recent weeks.

In Latin America and Asia Pacific, the decline in traffic was steady, but less pronounced than the pattern seen in North America. Traffic in Europe and the Middle East was relatively stable.

Good news for the creator community, not so good for bigger publishers.
Facebook delivers a mixed bag … as usual.

Relationship status with the publishing world?
“It’s complicated.”