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Facebook Monetization: Instant Articles to Support Paywalls on Branded News

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The platform is heaping brand new monetization features on its mobile-friendly but notoriously ‘flat’ format.

Due to its lukewarm financial returns, publishers have never been keen on Facebook Instant Articles. Earlier this year, The Guardian abandoned the platform altogether, opting instead to bring readers directly to its site for more advertising revenue and to promote paid subscriptions. Facebook may soon enable the publishers to do all of that (and more) with Instant Articles.

In a series of upgrades, Facebook is making good on its promise to help publishers drive more revenue and increase reader engagement, straight through IA. Currently, Facebook is working on enabling paid membership directly in Instant Articles for branded news publishers.

This comes as a part of Facebook Journalism Project’s professed support for publishers’ emerging business models.

One key area of collaboration is existing and emerging business models. Many of our partners have placed a renewed emphasis on growing their subscription funnel, and we’ve already begun exploring ways we can support these efforts. This month our engineering team in collaboration with the engineering team of the German news organization BILD will launch a test to explore offering free trials to engaged readers, right from within Instant Articles.

– Via Facebook Journalism Project Page

Earlier this year, Bild, a German news publisher, began promoting two free weeks of access to paid content (Bild Plus). This required users to sign-up for the two week trial-membership within IA, a model Facebook was also testing with The Telegraph and The Washington Post at the time.

The results were eye-opening:

Sign-up was a lengthy process, which included confirming the reader wants the free trial, entering an email address, approving Bild could extract data from Facebook’s platform, then reentering details into Bild’s own platform, as well as agreeing to various privacy requirements. “By that point, we had lost most of the interested users. Only a very small number would make it through the whole nine steps; it was a nightmare,” said Stefan Betzold, managing director for Bild.

– Via Digiday

Bild and Facebook’s collaborative efforts managed to reduce the number of steps to sign-up completion from nine to three. But there were more roadblocks to contend with – the lack of a payment module and data ownership being the foremost.

“When the two-week period is over, we need to use our CRM system to target them again,” said Betzold. “Is it strong enough to attract to attract subscribers? We want to go further; we need deeper integration. Facebook needs to make this a standardized project so it can be used for any publisher.

– Via Digiday

The roadmap for the subscription model isn’t quite clear, with significant details about data ownership and attribution/rev-share still in the dark. But what’s clear, according to The Times, is that Facebook is leaning towards a metered payment model for subscriptions, allowing users to read ten articles free each month before being prompted to pay for access.

Over the past couple of months, Facebook has made some major changes to expand monetization on Instant Articles: Native ad slots, which show ads in ‘Related Articles’ section of IA pages, are now available to all publishers. Customizable ad experience lets publishers control the number of ads they show in-article. The mobile-publishing platform even launched an upgrade to Instant Articles SDK for AMP and Apple News support, to improve reach at great ease with ‘create once, publish anywhere’ experience.

The buck doesn’t stop here. Facebook is testing more formats and intends to keep working on creating more monetization opportunities for publishers, on IA and out.

We’ll keep working on monetization options for partners, such as expanding our live ad break test to a wider group of partners, and exploring ad breaks in regular videos.

Via Facebook Journalism Project page

Facebook monetization never took a serious hit from adblock, since the platform managed to stay one step ahead with hacks and workarounds. Rival Google, on the other hand, remains a bystander until its Chrome adblock and accompanying ‘site access pass’ goes live.

With the paid-subscription support, Facebook will be able to

  1. Enhance reader experience, and
  2. Protect publisher interests

…all the while furthering its own initiative to curb the spread of fake news—by keeping the feature reserved for branded news content. That should keep the ball in its court for a while.