Facebook’s Instant Articles is something that is looked at by many in the publishing world with a combination of hope and fear. When I wrote about it initially, we basically knew that publishers would agree to host articles on the Facebook mobile app and keep 100% of the ad revenue they sold. Now that Instant Articles has launched, we’re getting some more of the fine print.
There are already a list of major players that are participating, which are: The Atlantic, BBC News, Bild, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, National Geographic, NBC News, Spiegel and the Times. Although the new program has officially launched, it’s currently only available through the iOS Facebook app, and I can’t find an ETA for it to be available for Android.
According to Facebook, in addition to the fact that articles will load way, super extra faster, they’ll also have a lot of bells and whistles, at least if publishers take advantage of them.
Powerful new creative tools bring your stories to life. Instantly zoom into high-resolution photos and tilt to explore in detail. Watch autoplay video come alive as you scroll through the article. See where it all happened with interactive maps. Hear the author’s voice with embedded audio captions.
Facebook also touts that publishers have control over their content, and they do give a lot of leeway in how things are run. Pages can be branded, and all of the ad revenue from articles sold by publishers are theirs to keep. If Facebook fills in the gaps where ads aren’t sold by the publisher, the publisher keeps a pretty hefty 70%. Further, outside analytics programs work with the system, and comScore traffic to Instant Articles count towards a website’s score.
However, there are some pretty significant “howevers.” The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook is limiting the volume and type of ads that may show up on these articles, and the limitations are listed below:
- 1 large banner ad, sized 320×250 or 300×250 pixels – or – 2 small banners sized 320×50 or 300×50 pixels for every 500 words of content.
- A maximum of 4 total ads per article, and a maximum of 2 small banners per article.
- All articles are allowed to have at least one ad, regardless of the length.
- Publishers may include no more than one house ad per article.
- No ads may be placed “above the fold” on the first view of the article.
- Publishers may not include ads in autoplay videos embedded in their articles, although ads in third-party video players are allowed.
Another report from the Wall Street Journal also states that while publishers may sell ads to their heart’s content, they have to do it themselves. Publishers are not allowed to work with third-party companies to bring in advertisers.
Additionally, a spokesman told AdAge that if advertisers want to have buy ads through Facebook to show up on Instant Articles, they’re going to need to run them through a regular Facebook ad campaign. No Instant Articles only campaigns are going to be made available.
A Double Edged Sword
In spite of the fact that publishers only stand to make 70% of ad profits from Facebook sold ads, they may want to just let Facebook do its thing. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that since Facebook isn’t allowing third-party ad sales, it’s probably going to be the path of least resistance. Further, as AdAge points out, making money from mobile is a pain, and Facebook seems to be one of only a few doing a good job of it.
The New York Times only makes about 10% of digital ad revenue from mobile, but it accounts for half of the site’s traffic. Publishers could stand to make more money by taking a cut of Facebook ad revenue than by trying to sell the ad space themselves.
This is all well and good, but it will make publishers very reliant on Facebook for their ad revenue, something you can be Facebook is counting on. If publishers see that they’re making more money letting Facebook handle their mobile ad revenue, it’s going to make it very hard for them to do anything but stick with the social media platform and whatever changes they may decide to make to the program in the future.