Facebook plans to start testing Instant Article subscriptions as soon as October

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Facebook’s Instant Articles format may not be the revenue rainmaker that publishers had hoped for, but the company is readying another method for media companies to make money.

As soon as October, Facebook plans to start testing a way for publishers to put their Instant Articles behind a metered paywall and sell subscriptions through the social network, the head of Facebook’s news partnerships team, Campbell Brown, said at an event in New York on Tuesday, according to The Street. Brown’s statement confirms a report from Digiday published last week that Facebook plans to start testing a subscription product by the end of this year.

“We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook. As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs,” Brown said in a statement provided by a Facebook spokesperson.

As Digiday previously reported, Facebook has been meeting with publishers about its plans for a subscription product, and last week Brown and Facebook’s director of product, Fidji Simo, hosted roundtable meetings with publishers in New York and Paris, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Facebook and the publishers are still ironing out details of the subscription product, but here’s what’s being formulated so far. According to the person, people will be able to read at least 10 free articles a month from a participating publisher before they’ll be asked to buy a subscription to continue to read that publisher’s articles on Facebook.

If people already subscribe to a publication, they’ll be able to authenticate that subscription through Facebook instead of having to sign up for a second, Facebook-only subscription. It will be up to publishers to decide which articles are or are not put behind the paywall, and publishers will have full control over subscriber data.

Still being worked out is how exactly people will pay for subscriptions through Facebook — not to mention whether they’ll be willing to pay — as well as whether the subscriptions will extend to Facebook’s desktop site despite Instant Articles being mobile-only, and what impact subscriptions will have on advertising within Instant Articles, such as whether subscribers will be shown fewer or no ads.

But Facebook and the publishers have some time to work those things out. The company isn’t expected to officially roll out the subscription product until at least next year.

About The Author

Tim Peterson, Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat’s ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar’s attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon’s ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube’s programming strategy, Facebook’s ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking’s rise; and documented digital video’s biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed’s branded video production process and Snapchat Discover’s ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands’ early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo’s and Google’s search designs and examine the NFL’s YouTube and Facebook video strategies.


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