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Facebook Explores a News Subscription Product

What does this mean for publishers?

July 20, 2017

Facebook is in early talks with several news publishers to begin testing a paywall for subscription news stories in October.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, spoke about the social media giant’s plans at an industry conference earlier this week. “One of the things we heard in our initial meetings from many newspapers and digital publishers is that ‘we want a subscription product—we want to be able to see a paywall in Facebook.’ And that is something we’re doing now,” Brown said, as reported by TheStreet.com

Although plans for the subscription product haven’t been ironed out, the model would mimic the strategy used by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Users will be able to view a total of 10 free articles per month. After that, they would be prompted to sign up for a subscription.

“This is a positive, if interim, step forward for publishers,” said eMarketer analyst Patricia Orsini. “Publishers have not been happy with the Facebook relationship for a while. The biggest complaint for publishers was that they couldn’t monetize their content within the News Feed, yet they have been loath to totally pull back from the platform because of the reach. At least they were getting eyeballs.”

“I don’t know what deal they are making in terms of getting ad revenues from Facebook, but publishers seem to be putting a price tag on their content,” she added. “Since digital advertising isn’t growing fast enough to make up losses from print revenues, this is where publishers—especially legacy publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—are looking to increase revenues.”

First Source that US Smartphone Users Check in the Morning for News via Their Smartphone, Feb 2016 (% of respondents)

One thing’s for sure: Many people look to social media for their news consumption.

Data from Pew Research Center found that a majority of US adults—62%—get at least some of their news from social. For a subgroup, 35% found social was the most frequent channel.

And similar research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford found that over a quarter (37%) of smartphone users surveyed said Facebook was the first source they checked in the morning for news.

—Rimma Kats


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