Facebook tests ways to support publisher subscriptions in Instant Articles

Over the next few weeks, Facebook will launch a test to support news subscription models in Instant Articles across the US and Europe.

Facebook tests ways to support publisher subscriptions in Instant Articles

The initial test will involve a small group of publishers and will start with Android devices. 

Both Facebook and Google have been accused by publishers in the past for policies and methods that undercut publisher subscriptions and revenue. 

Earlier this month, Google announced that it would be taking steps to will help publishers sell more digital subscriptions, including, ending its controversial "first click free" policy.

According to a Facebook post, this latest initiative is a "direct result" of the work it has been doing via the Facebook Journalism Project. 

"Earlier this year, many publishers identified subscriptions as a top priority, so we worked with a diverse group of partners to design, refine, and develop a test suited for a variety of premium news models. We also heard from publishers that maintaining control over pricing, offers, subscriber relationships, and 100% of the revenue are critical to their businesses, and this test is designed to do that," the post said. 

The publishers involved in the test are: The EconomistThe Telegraph, Tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune), The Washington PostBild, The Boston GlobeLa Repubblica, Le Parisien and Der Spiegel.

Here's how the test will work: 

  • Facebook will support a paywall in Instant Articles for both metered models (starting with a uniform meter at 10 articles and test variations from there) and freemium models (the publisher controls which articles are locked);
  • when someone who isn't yet a subscriber to a publication encounters a paywall within Instant Articles, they will be prompted to subscribe for full access to that publisher's content;
  • if that person subscribes, the transaction will take place on the publisher's website. The publisher will process the payment directly and keep 100% of the revenue;
  • the publisher and subscriber relationship will work the same way it does on their own sites today where the publisher has direct access and full control, including setting pricing and owning subscriber data;
  • these subscriptions include full access to a publisher's site and apps;
  • similarly, someone who is already a subscriber to a publication in the test can authenticate that subscription within Instant Articles in order to get full access to that publisher's articles.

Facebook will also be testing other units to help publishers drive additional subscriptions before a person hits the paywall.

These units include a Subscribe Call-to-Action Unit, which will appear in-line in Instant Articles similar to other CTAs like Email Sign-Up or App Install.

The platform also test a "Subscribe" button that will replace the "Like" button on the top right corner of an article. 

Facebook will continue to invest in Instant Articles because it supports a faster-loading mobile experience. It also plans to drive improvements in ad performance in Instant Articles.

This year, the average ad revenue per page view has increased over 50%, and Instant Articles pays out more than $1m (£758,000) per day to publishers via Audience Network, Facebook added.