Guest Columns
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Facebook News Tab: Publishers should be skeptical

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Much has been said about Facebook’s upcoming “News Tab” not least by Mark Zuckerberg:

we [are] launching a big initiative around news and journalism where we’re partnering with a lot of folks to build a new product that’s supporting high-quality journalism

Should the news industry breathe a sigh of relief? Decidedly not.

We’re told the News Tab will feature a wide range of content across four categories of publishers: general, topical, diverse and local news – all in the same place. Yet this type of initiative can only ever be of limited, if any, benefit to the news sector.

That’s because, it’s an aggregation of content from a number of news providers. The product itself – the thing users see when they click on the news tab – will be Facebook’s.

However much they’re paid, the content providers won’t see any real benefit unless and until the users move across from Facebook’s product to theirs. But past experience tells us that very few of them will.

That’s a problem. Generating long term, sustainable benefit from your investment in content requires repeated engagement from your readers. But nobody engages repeatedly with the same piece of news content. They engage with a product which delivers on their expectations even when 100% of the content changes on a daily basis.

Looked at that way, content on its own isn’t worth much. It only acquires value when it is part of a product which users attach value to. That’s why publishers have built businesses which turn content into valuable, well known and famously branded products.

Those in the internet business, like Facebook and Google, do the opposite – they turn other peoples’ products back into content, and then use it to create their own products. They take the expensive part of what publishers do and leave behind the part which converts that cost into profit – the actual product.

So when Facebook offers to take bits of your content, along with the trust and credibility which your brand has built, and then deliver it to their users, publishers should be sceptical.

It’s their news tab, not yours. Your content is mixed with other content from other places in a way curated and controlled by Facebook, not you. The value of the deal is not measured just in the fees they pay but the sustainable value they create.

Real value for publishers is vested overwhelmingly in their products, curated and controlled by them. Everything we have learned from the internet reinforces that.

We don’t need help in the form of “support” from internet mega-companies. We need engagement from a mass of users with our products and we need profitable, sustainable business models.

If Facebook and others want to support us, they need to deliver lots of users direct to publishers where they go on to establish a direct, deep, repeated and (increasingly) directly paying relationship with our products. Facebook’s news tab, to be valuable, needs to operate as an effective marketing channel. 

They’re paying publishers to try to buy their way out of a PR nightmare, to not be seen as the bad guys. However hungry publishers might be for more revenue, what they’re being offered by Facebook is thin gruel.

Dominic Young, Founder & CEO, Axate

AboutAxate is a centralized digital wallet system that lets readers pay on an article-by-article basis. Users upload money to their Axate wallet and can spend it across Axate-enabled sites. Based in London, Axate was founded in 2017 by Dominic Young who previously held senior positions at News UK and News Corp.

Photo by Paloma A. on Unsplash