When Agreeing to Test New Platforms, Publishers Must Voice Their Priorities Up Front. (Case In Point: Facebook Instant Articles)
Any time a powerhouse like Facebook or Google launches a major product, publishers know they have a big new project on their hands if they want to be involved. For the next year or more, they must earmark significant time and resources to develop a strategy, track initial results of adapting, and results over time – which truly show how their business is being affected by the initiative. Is it worth the undertaking to be an early adopter?
Results aren’t guaranteed, and in the case of Instant Articles, Facebook’s promising solution to fast-loading mobile articles, we’re two years in and some publishers aren’t loving the results.
Articles don’t appear to monetize as well as those that lead back to their site Facebook is still restricting ad formats and number of units allowed per article The opportunity in its current form doesn’t align with all publishers’ business models (this is the biggie) Because of these findings, some publishers like Forbes and The New York Times have reportedly abandoned Facebook Instant Articles for now (though they’ve not sworn off a return). Others are only dedicating a small portion of their budget.
Facebook is developing solutions in response to these concerns, but what happens when the solutions still aren’t enough? Is it too late? Their primary solution is call-to-action units, which enable publishers to increase newsletter signups or get more Likes for their page. This is welcomed by some publishers, but it’s not exactly innovative.
The secondary solution is trial subscription signups, which Facebook is testing with select publishers – but one drawback still exists. There’s still no way to enforce a paywall or test paid subscription sign-ups since these obviously don’t align with one of Instant Articles’ main selling points: ease of access to content. This is a big problem since more and more publishers are relying on driving paid subscriptions as part of their revenue model.
Looking back, should this have been discussed up front?
It points to a bigger question:
Do publishers need to start being more strategic with the time and resources they dedicate to testing? No one wants to miss the boat, but should they be better at asking partners up front whether their specific priorities can be met, and bow out if the answer is no?
While continuous testing and feedback are crucial in our industry, participating publishers are pulling a lot of weight. Brands and publishers are starting to push back more on powerhouses when they’ve been wronged, but we probably need more proactive pushback. Publishers should start stating their demands up front, and banding together when needed to ensure they’re supporting innovation around what matters to them. In the case of Facebook Instant Articles, if driving subscriptions had been brought up early on, would it be a different product now with much bigger participation?